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ABBA land


As we drove away from alcoholic heaven the phone rang and our friend Malin was on the line. Mette and me had worked with her in the Antarctic and we were going to stay with her while in town. The guys had good rooms lined up in a local hotel and the rest of today was free so all could relax as much as possible. We met Malin outside of City Hall and we went our different ways. Malin realised how tired we were and had a day of doing as little as possible planned. We headed to her apartment and put our feet up for awhile. Its amazing what a little rest and a shower does for you and soon we hit the streets with her for a long walk all over Stockholm.

Stockholm is a beautiful city straddling many islands. We hopped across one bridge to the next and got the blood flowing through our veins again. It was nice to just walk and talk. Done very little of that these past two months. Its 21 years since I was here last but I could still remember quite a lot of the city and didn’t feel totally lost. The whole town was coming alive with Christmas shopping and the old town was packed with stalls and shoppers. A cup of warm Gloog sparked us up as we took in the highs and lows of the place. Weird leather Viking masks seemed to be a bit of a high while a neo Nazi protest would definitely rate as a low. These morons were lined up with their skin head cuts and kicker boots while holding shields saying ‘Patriot’. The police were there in force and kept dragging them away one by one for a search.


These people to me are the lowest of the low and are caricatures of their own image. Cropped hair, rolled up trousers, kicker boots, army jackets and most of all, dump looking faces. When the gene pool was washing about, they were bathing in the shallow end. Dumb and full of hate, special. My non passive side tends to bubble here as I’d love to give a few of these wankers a bit of a run for their money. Gutless thugs in gangs is all they are. The police were all over them though so I was sure they would have had a bad day by the time the sun was down.

Finally we were back in Malins flat for a home cooked meal and a sleep in a really nice bed. The morning brought the last day of action for the Ban Bus.

Money money money!

Our arrival in Finland took us as low as we could go financially. Every line of credit was exploding. I had gone in search of our elusive funds and Mette was getting upset with me for being sharp and to the point with some. I’d spoken to a few contacts to try and sort out a loan or something as we were still waiting on the cash flow log jam to clear from the Norwegian government. If we didn’t get some pressure off the credit cards we would be finished anyway. I talked to Sylvie at the Landmines campaign and asked if she could bridge us with 5000 euro or so to get at least one card opened up till the government money came through. After a long chat about what was going on and our problems she knocked me down with her solution. She would advance us the whole budget as a loan, not just 5000, and just sort out the whole problem. I was speechless and so grateful. Its good stuff this old mafia of ours.

When I told Mette that it was all being sorted out, she changed on the spot as a huge burden lifted from her shoulders. The end of the Ban Bus was in sight and we could now get to the end and finish the job we began over two months ago.
Now we were in Stockholm, Mette checked her account and the money was there. She instantly began paying out credit cards and every debt owed was cleared. It was all left hand, right hand money as it went out as quickly as it had come in. We were now out of debt and ready for whatever was still in front of us. The Ban Bus was far from finished now and our moral spiked sky high for the run to the end in Oslo in a few days.

ABBA land

The last day of action in Stockholm was all changing as we had planned to do actions that would attack the Swedish government’s position and unwillingness to sign the Cluster Bomb Treaty. ‘Mama Mia’, that had just changed and they were going to come to Oslo this week and sign on with the other nations. Our protest actions would now be reworked to general awareness of the problem and a big thank you to the Swedish government as they now would resound to the words of ‘I do, I do, I do, I do, I do, I do’. There never would have been any movement by the government if it wasn’t for the local and international campaigners who kept the pressure on at all times. Some ‘Souper Troopers’ were angry with the government’s decision to sign but public pressure brought the government their ‘Waterloo’ and now ‘The winner takes it all’. This is a big step for Sweden as they are a manufacturer and supplier of these weapons so for them to sign requires a complete reversal of their position. It might cost them a bit of ‘Money Money Money’ but the way to a safer world always costs something. So ‘Ring Ring’ the beginning of the end for these munitions and the party can begin with ‘Fernando’ from Brazil leading the way to the celebration party with the ‘Dancing Queen’.

The Real Stockholm

Day two in Stockholm had us on the streets again with a simulated strike organised by the Red Cross. This attracted some media attention and passers by stopped and signed the petition. Onto a Christmas church service from the public action and Mette hit the congregation with the realities of cluster bombs. More people stayed and talked and signed the petition till we all met with the local campaigners in a café for dinner and drinks. The Swedes were giving a collective sigh of relief at the decision of the government to sign onto the treaty but were not seduced by the possibilities of some still to come dirty tricks. When Sweden signed the Landmine Treaty they then delayed the ratification of the treaty for a further eight years. They must not be as cynical with this new treaty and must pass it into national law as fast as possible.



Mountains of snow were piled all over Tallinn and trucks were beginning to haul it away. Our violent little interlude was over and all was becoming normal again. Mette raced off in the morning to meet a future volunteer as we packed up the Bus. Our old friend Kevin Bryant had arrived last night form the UK after cancelled flights due to the storm. We had worked with Kevin in Ireland during those negotiations and it was great to have him back with us now.


Kevin was ex British military and a deminer. He was blown up by a landmine while working in Lebanon in 2002 and lost his left leg. This gives him the unique position to speak as an expert in many relevant fields. After 24 years in the British army he knows a lot about that. As a Royal Engineer he knows a lot about bomb disposal and demining. As a man who has been blown apart by a landmine he knows how hard it is to get over those problems too.

The interesting problem about getting Kevin into the Ban Bus is simply where do we put him? We are packed from floor to ceiling already so freeing up another seat and getting an extra bag in is no mean feat. Davor must have been good at jigsaw puzzles as a kid for he utilises every square inch in the van to squeeze Kevin and his bag in. We really are as tight as a drum now but luckily we only have to drive on and off a ferry then to a Helsinki hotel.

These Baltic countries are real maritime ports and we weave through the choice of ferry companies and find the one we are to load onto. ‘Ban Cluster Bombs’ is emblazoned around the bus in many languages and all we stop before look at us quizzically.

The ferry is one of those huge drive on, drive off affairs and we fit in amongst trucks and cars in the cavernous hull. As we head to the upper decks the pungent smell of vomit burns our nostrils as we enter the stairwell. Many a Fin hops on this for a quick way to get cheap booze and the results after an ocean crossing can be messy. Puffy red faced people are walking on with cases of booze, happy to be beating Finland’s more inflated prices. The lines are thrown and we turn for the three hour trip across the Gulf of Finland to Helsinki. As it’s a mid week trip, the ugly boozed up patrons are not too bad but by the time we arrive there are a few with an alcoholic wobble staggering about the ship.

Back in the ships hull its like the starting line of Le Mans. All are behind their wheels ready to drive off the ship, a huge sign says in many languages ‘Do not start you engine till instructed due to fumes’. Most pay no attention to this and the hull is rapidly filling with poisonous carbon monoxide. The bow finally lifts and we are on our way.


I have friends in Helsinki and Mette and me will stay with them instead of a hotel. This will save some money and be great to re connect with some good people. Our campaign friends have booked Daniel, Davor and Kevin into a hostel near the docks.

Viivu meets us as soon as we leave the ship and we sort out who is going where. The boys head off in the Ban Bus and we go with Viivu. Viivu spent many years living in Australia and married another friend of mine, Dom. After so long in Australia they decided to spend the next few years in Helsinki so packed up their three kids and moved over. The night was spent talking over the cluster bomb problem then the phone rang. The place that the boys have headed to is a dump. Very noisy with communal shower halls and after so long on the road no one is happy about staying there. There is no chance of changing tonight but we get busy on finding them another hotel for the next two nights.


We all met at the main railway station for the 9.30 am press conference and launch of the Landmine Monitor. The room was set and Daniel and Kevin arrived. They both looked a bit rough as they had had a bad night’s lack of sleep. The journalists and NGOs arrived and we launched into the issue of landmines and cluster bombs. Lots of information flowed out and the journalist from the main news network really got interested in the subject. She wrote and asked good questions and began to understand the depth of the issue and why it was relevant to them.

Finland has been a rogue state on both issues and have so far stayed outside of the Landmine Treaty. Although being still outside, they have recently made the statement that they will sign the treaty in 2012. This is welcome news but they are replacing their landmine stocks with cluster bombs.

Finland has a unique national psyche. They continually look back to World War 2 and the fighting against the Russians in the Winter War. This was a battle of fighting to the last man and a scorched earth policy. Every Finnish male must do military service and their army is largely conscript and militia. In case of war, the whole country will mobilise and fight. Within the Finnish defence model they will fight to the last man and destroy their country as they withdraw. This is a total scorched earth policy. The original plan would have had them plant landmines everywhere to hopefully slow any Russian advance. In terms of modern warfare this would achieve nothing as landmines do not provide any form of viable defence. Every army in the world can breach a minefield. It’s the returning refugees who are blown up by them after the conflict is over.

The really silly part of this strategy is that if this is actually how they plan to defend themselves then they actually do not have any form of national defence. Mette told me of a man she knew in Afghanistan. When rockets were being fired into Kabul when she worked there, the man told his children to hide from them under the table. They felt safer there although the man knew if a rocket hit, they would all be dead. All this did was give them false hope but it did stop the children crying. This seems to be the same in Finland. They create a defence based around a system that will not protect them. It will just give them false hope.

When I was here six of so years ago, I had this same conversations with politicians, defence and foreign affairs. Privately, a General said he knew mines were no good as a defence but needed money from the government to renew the military. Till they got a budget to do this, they would keep the landmines. The budget was finally approved and they bought cluster bombs. The type they bought were the same as the M-85s that failed in Lebanon in 2006. These with their failed self destruct mechanism will create the same catastrophe as all the others.

The Finnish defence model has now changed and they will fire masses of cluster bombs into any invading army instead of using landmines. This will destroy Finland. Since the fighting in Georgia, many countries that have shared borders with Russia have become very nervous. I don’t think that they see cluster bombs as an equaliser but they have all taken a very paranoid stance in general.

Georgia fired masses of clusters on the advancing Russians then turned tail and ran like hell. Their use of clusters did not slow the advance one metre but did create the nightmare that Georgians now have to live with. The message is not that they should be undefended but that they should have weapons systems that actually will engage their enemies in a manner that will destroy them and not create a nightmare for Finns on Finnish soil after the war is over. These systems actually do exist in a variety of ways but it would take a rethink by defence to adopt them.

Once the press conference was finished we headed to the hostel and got everyone checked out. Viivu was finding a new hotel that would be better. We headed to the ‘Peace Station’ where the NGOs work from and consolidated what we needed to do before our next event which was to be a public action in the city. It was to be a lay down action which was not that much of a wonderful thought in snow that was rapidly turning into slush.


The sun was setting as we drove onto the pavement where the action would take place. The afternoon was miserable with rain mixing the snow into a consistency of a muddy slurpee. A dozen or so hard core activists braved the conditions anyway to make a statement. Smiles did come to our faces though when members of the media turned up. A big or small crowd can be made to look impressive, it’s all in the way you frame the shot. I took the media to an overhanging balcony and everyone spread out on a large sheet of plastic. The shots were made, some interviews given and we had made another irritation into the government of Finland’s position.

Only a few more days to go till the Ban Bus would be over but the next morning had us in parliament giving a brief to interested MPs and aids. A variety of people attended but the best was Bent Olin from Defence. After we had finished the talk he stayed to discuss the issue. He didn’t shy away from the hard issues and we had a very solid discussion. Nothing new came out of it except his happy confession of how Finland planned to defend themselves.

Yes cluster bombs would now be the corner stone of their defence. They would fire masses of them onto any advancing Russian army. The strategy was to never surrender and fight to the last man and last sovereign corner of Finnish soil. When asked would they use them in Helsinki, his answer was “of course”. They would be used where ever the Russians came.

What would be left of a country after such fighting? The simple answer would be not much.


Who would then be responsible for clearing up the country, if there still was a country? Would it be defence? It would not be defence and anyway, that would be the problem of another department was his reply.

How would this be paid for as you wouldn’t have a functional economy after such a war and strategy? He had no answer but eluded to the international community.

There is no way the international community would clean up Finland if they willingly destroyed their own nation with a weapon system that most of the world had banned. International aid? Not likely!

Then there was the issue of military effectiveness of cluster bombs being used on Finnish soil. Finland is a cold country of dense forests and lakes with very soft soil that is under snow for much of the year. Much of their economy is based on the timber and paper industries. Dropping cluster bombs in Finnish forests will guarantee they are unusable, permanently. Clusters would be hung up in trees and working as a forester would be come a life threatening occupation. Then there are the ones that hit the ground and are imbedded into the soft soil. This will make the same danger as every other country with a sub surface cluster bomb problem.

The really stupid part of this being a defence strategy was if they would use them onto snow. If you did fire cluster bombs into snow fields you could guarantee an almost 100% failure rate. They would just dig in and stay dangerous till spring. This gets really interesting when their main argument for fear of Russia is the Winter War from the 1940’s. As the name says, Winter War. This was fought in the snow and if this is their model then they actually have no defence. They will just fail to destroy any enemy and create a dangerous legacy.

When this was pointed out to him he said they would never use cluster bombs in winter. If this is the case, then they are unprotected for much of the year and their big national nightmare of the Winter War could come true again! This means Finland only has a self destruction strategy, not a defence. Bomb the whole country including Helsinki, into forests and soft earth but don’t use it in the snow. Why do I feel that more Finns should find this distressing?

There are weapons and strategy options that are easily better. One is point target weapons to hit any armoured advance, another is to look into new systems like kinetic munitions for soft targets. A combination of systems would be able to address the different scenarios they are concerned with. Another strategy that could work very well for Finland is to surrender. I don’t mean this in a facetious way but when you have a small force up against a big one then surrender from a formal way of fighting can be turned to an advantage as you preserve your fighting force then embark on a prolonged guerrilla strategy. This can be maintained for years and did break the Russians in Afghanistan and many other conflicts have been played out with the same strategy.

Our last meeting in the parliament was with the Green Party and they were the only ones on the side of a ban. We did a briefing for them and tried to raise their ability to wage a more concrete battle with those in government who we opposed to a ban.

When we were packing up I was acutely aware how tired I was. The next day had us on the ferry to Stockholm and our final run to Oslo.

Viivu cooked up a feast for us all and another old Finnish friend came over and the night was a pressure release for all. Good wine, great food and lively conversation awakens the senses and this is what surrounded the table in abundance. Dom has a great brain and enjoys the mental gymnastics of solid debate and was getting his teeth into the issue. I hope that Viivu and he might get more involved in the future as they would both be fearsome lobbyists.


We found the ferry the following day and had the very last tickets to get ourselves across the sea to Sweden. Queues of cars and trucks waited at the docks to load and a party atmosphere was all around. It was Friday night and many were heading to Stockholm for a big and wild weekend.

Once the Ban Bus was secured in the hold we found our cabin. The ferry is an over night boat and you can’t ride without a bed. Daniel, Kevin, Mette and me were sharing one cabin while Davor had another. The cabin was minuet and an internal one with a fake porthole painted on the wall with a Mediterranean scene on it. This is not the place to spend along time in so we dumped our bags we went for a look around. The bars had been open awhile now and many were half way hammered already. This was going to be another very ‘special’ ferry crossing I was sure.

The place became weirder and weirder with many a ‘Bucks’ or ‘Hens’ party wandering by. They have a pension for dressing up here so a real menagerie was on parade. There was a guy dressed as a ‘pink rabbit’ with ‘school girl’ who looked like she could suck a tennis ball down a garden pipe, the ‘Village People’ trotted by with their pet ‘Gorilla’ while ‘Elvis’ and the ‘Pirate got drunker and drunker.

Every spare spot was invaded by one gambling machine or another with a casino down the hall with roulette and poker played there. Herds of young kids rampaged the decks till they found a bank of poker machines and settled in to lose their pocket money. They displayed all the mannerisms of addicted gamblers by cheering when they won and punching and kicking the machines when they didn’t. The ship staff couldn’t care one bit and walked on by with imbecilic smiles. This was going to be quite a night.

The cabin was starting to look like a good option till our 8.30 pm dinner time. Mette and me snuck off for a nap. Davor met the other guy who was to share his cabin and he was going to be one of these wasted drunks. Always the tactician, he offered the guy an extra 10 euro if he would drink all night and not come back to the cabin. The guy happily accepted and was never seen again.

The booze continued to be drained by the punters when we walked into the restaurant. A feeding frenzy at the trough was well under way. The crew have no idea of passenger service either and are about as disinterested and rude as they could possibly be. We ate and left. I am not one to go to bed at 9.30 but tonight I was happy to make an exception. The rest of the guys kicked on for awhile and more tales of fun on the high seas came back to the cabin. There was the guy who poured the beer over his mate at the roulette table. A few face plants on the floor and finally they too headed for bed when they walked into the disco and Daniel yelled out, “Play some Abba” and immediately Dancing Queen struck up. At that, they had met their Waterloo and ran away.

The decision to go to bed early had paid off as that was to be the only sleep for the night. Once Daniel and Kevin arrived we entered round one of World Championship snoring. They both got the vocal chain saws started up and sawed through the night. I think Daniel was winning as he was getting it from both Kevin and Mette. They were both reaching up and dragging his bedding off to shut him up. That would only work for a second then he would be chugging away again.

Kevin had had enough and got dressed and went for a smoke. As soon as he shut the door he realised he had neither his smokes or the key. Being a gentleman he didn’t knock and wake us but went and watched the pond life in a further state of inebriation. He should have knocked as who could sleep with the Daniel symphony at full crescendo. A pounding came up the hall with some drunk trying to find his girlfriend who was probably equally as drunk and trotted off with someone else.

“Bente, Bente!” came banging up the hall on all the doors then disappeared into another corridor.

I could just see the headlines now, “Pissed school girl found in compromising position with pink rabbit and pirate. Elvis goes ballistic!”

As the sun began to rise we stood out on deck and watch the ship weave its way through the many islands that are the coast of Sweden. This is a magnificent sight and if ever I am back I’ll be doing this crossing during the day, mid week, without 2000 drunks I hope. The Ban Bus was loaded for the last major time as we drove off the ferry. A gauntlet of police were lined up with breath testing equipment getting every driver to blow for alcohol. Go right, you are safe, left is straight to jail.


The road out of Latvia was as flat as the road in and I think we summated their highest peak on the way. There was one point on the road that seemed to give us a view then back in the flats again so maybe that was it. The weather was getting more and more wintry with snow all around. Davor plugged on into the thickening veil of white as the rest of us worked on our various projects. It still amazes me what can be achieved with a laptop in a car and a power inverter.


It’s not so far to Tallinn and we arrived in the dark, which meant nothing as it still not late and fought our way through ever deepening snow to the hotel. The Portus City Hotel is right by the international ferry terminal and a hub for pissed weekend tourists from Finland. They jump the ferry from Helsinki for the weekend, get hammered on duty free booze and stay in our salubrious accommodation. The hotel was fine but so noisy all night with drunken blah blah babbling up the stairs.

There was time for a meal, so Mette and me headed off for a walk in the old town to find a restaurant. We had only gone a few metres from the hotel when we came across the worlds most dedicated hookers. In ankle deep snow in the dark and wind were a few girls hanging on street corners looking for passing trade. Not sure what they intended to do with any trade they did find as at these temperatures they may have trouble getting a functional appendage.

The old town of Tallinn is a UNESCO site and a great example of an old medieval semi walled city. The entrance into the town is through an old arch with round towers on each side. Its knight is shinning armour stuff. The fresh layer of snow gave the place a beautiful finish with only pedestrian traffic and subtle street lighting making it really peaceful to walk through. Nice to not be looking over your shoulder to see who is about to run you over.


Pedestrian road death is a real issue in this part of the world in winter. You have to be careful where you put your feet so not to skid across the pavement and land on your arse or vanish into a slimy puddle of sludge and ice water. The drivers are having enough trouble just finding the road and working out when to stop and go. Add these two diverging views and distracted pedestrians regularly make it under the wheels of visibility hampered cars. Many people have small reflectors swinging from their jackets to add a little sparkle to the gloom. I felt completely invisible in my black jacket in a place like this.

The food was good, the walk was better and we headed home in degenerating weather conditions. It wasn’t long till a fully fledged gale was hammering Tallinn. All ice and snow was going horizontal and the conditions outside were appalling. The morning was not got better but worse. The city was fast filling up with snow and service by service was grinding to a halt. The radio broadcast was for all to stay inside unless they really had to go out. We worked indoors and watched the snow blast the ferry terminal outside. The ferries stopped working and the hotel filled up with marooned travellers, many who had already consumed their duty free booze. Nothing like a lobby full of pissed Fins who can’t get home to make a place feel special.


By late in the day we were getting cabin fever and decided to brave another walk in the old town. Mette and me had every bit of clothing on and as much flesh covered and stepped into deep snow. It was cold but not too bad with the wind at our backs. Weird things happen on a night like this and a car blowing sideways across the ice was one example. The walk was nice and we finally got a little protection in the old town and had a meal. All was good till it was time to go home. As soon as we turned from the protection of the old town wall we were pelted with tiny razor sharp ice crystals head on. Bowing to the storm we forced ourselves forward for the walk back to the hotel. It was two kilometres away at most and every step was paid for. The wind was so hard and the wind chill so strong it was hard to breath. At any opportunity we would duck into a doorway and gather ourselves up. Stepping back into the blasting vortex of ice crystals we plugged on. Ice was building up on both our bodies and visions of Robert Scott dying in the Antarctic ran through my head. This was bloody painful trying to cover a few km, I can’t imagine what it would be like to walk thousands of kilometres in this.

The hotel was finally in sight but still we needed one more door way to shelter in. The last push took us in the front door and we looked like Frosty the Snowman’s cousins. Its ok being in the cold, ice and snow but the moment you walk into a warm environment you begin to melt. I could fast feel rivers of ice water trickling down my legs and into my boots. The trick is to get outer layers off as fast as possible and knock the snow off while it’s still frozen. The walk had cured our need to be outside and the warm lobby full of pissed Fins didn’t seem too bad at all now.


The storm had calmed by the morning and we headed to the Irish Embassy to do a press conference. The embassy is in the old town and we found it easily. All around people were surveying the damage from the last 24 hours. Cars were being dug out and snow ploughs excavated the roads. I thought the last 24 hours had been bad, it seemed that the Estonians thought so to. It’s the same look as after a cyclone has passed through a town in Australia. It’s that ‘what the hell was that’ look.

The Irish Ambassador was an entertaining host and his staff had contacted all the press and invited them to come. The usual gear was brought in and set up, photographs, fake cluster bombs, projector and computer, all ready. We stood and waited and waited some more. Some of the staff from the Norwegian Embassy came over too so we waited even more. The dark realisation that we may be crashing and burning crept through our minds. “It’s the weather”, said Peter the second secretary. He was right. Everyone was emerging like those from a bomb shelter and getting to a morning press conference came far down the food chain.

The morning wasn’t wasted as I did get to educate the Ambassador and staff and impress why they are so important in engaging the local government officials. The pictures went up and strike footage from Georgia shown. I could see the level of interest rise in all of them.

We packed up and headed out into the ice and snow to do a public action till the afternoon when there would be a more formal reception. The area chosen was a small square and park in the centre of town and was a natural crossing point for shoppers. We were to set up here from 11 am till 4 pm. The embassy driver, Sergey, escorted us to the park and made sure we were in the right place and official papers displayed properly to avoid any police problems.

Sergey struck me as a young guy who may be a little dual purpose. He certainly could drive in snow and bad conditions at high speed and I had a sneaking suspicion he would be a reasonable hand with a Kalashnikov too.


The Ban Bus was parked in place and pictures set into the snow banks. This was definitely going to be a cold morning. As we had no local assistance it made it hard for us talk to too many people so resorted to handing out information we had translated into Estonian. Everyone took the flyers and went away reading them. A few even stopped and wanted to talk about what they could do. One woman was a teacher at the local university and wanted us to come back some time and visit the university. Slowly we met more people like her and had a good core for future local campaigners.

By the time we had finished and were packing up we had handed out over 500 flyers and talked to many people. We didn’t expect to get through to as many and the ones who stopped and talked wanted to get involved. As we were out of material to give away and the sun was dipping were began to pack up for the reception.

Sergey arrived in the Ambassadors Audi A6 and slipped in behind the Ban Bus. Only the material that had to come with us was packed into the Audi, the rest went into the Ban Bus to go back to the hotel with Davor. The trunk of the Audi was deceptively large and took everything we had easily.

Daniel commented to Sergey, “You could fit a body in here!”
“Two,” came the reply with a grin.

Davor went home and Sergey took us to the residence. The Ambassador lived just outside of old town opposite the Prime Minister and other embassies. The pictures were carried to the dining room and all made ready again. We were now nervous of who would not attend due to the storm. A call was received from the Norwegian Ambassador that he would be coming and he had only just been dug out of his house. The city had been paralysed.


The most important people we need to talk to are representatives of government. The Secretary General of the Estonian Red Cross arrived with a staff member as did members from the Irish and Norwegian Embassies. The Norwegian Ambassador arrived then in came the parliamentary adviser to the Foreign Affairs Committee. He was our man and I launched into the talk. We hit all the issues yet again and really worked over the issues of interoperability and the recent fighting in Georgia. This was all for the benefit of our adviser. I needed him to go back to work with a far better understanding as to what is going on and why it is important to Estonia to move towards signing.

The talking finished and I asked for questions. There were none. I needed to get to this guy and have a private talk but I couldn’t do it in an environment where we could be overheard. Mette and the Ambassador sensed this simultaneously and struck up some noisy small talk with the others.

I lent across the table and said, “What will it really take to get Estonia on board?”

This opened the way for an excellent discussion that distilled the local issues down to some core points. The points he had were not insurmountable but he did seem determined that they would not sign next week.

“We will look at this in all good time. Maybe in 12 years,” he said.

Basically they seemed stuck in the mud and following Finland’s paranoid self suicide strategy. Campaigning from the ground up is what is needed in a place like this. At least the Ban Bus had contacts that could be turned into some future campaign.


Tomorrow we head for Helsinki and possibly the toughest fight we were to have so far.

The local hookers were back on the beat as we headed for dinner. As we passed a frozen street walker Daniel muttered, “BOBFOC” to himself.

“What the hell is BOBFOC” I ask?
“Body off Bay Watch, Face off Crime Watch” came the reply.

Good to see Daniels power of observation not failing him now.



The Baltic’s are quite flat lands and the drive north to Latvia was quite featureless. More snow had fallen over night and we knew this would increase for the rest of the trip. All of us were feeling the pressure from the work we were doing and time on the road but our continued financial problems added a ten fold factor to this. Still no money had been paid into our bank account and two of our three credit cards had now topped out. We were again in trouble and it would only be days till it all came tumbling down. Mette avoids conflict and was making excuses for the lack of payment and I was getting more and more angry with those that we messing us about. It was like Istanbul all over again but at least then we had a little left to pack it up and get the van back to Serbia. Now we had run to the wire and if the last card tilted out then we would be in a lot of trouble.

NPA had said they would pay in money to our account as a stop gap measure but this too had not arrived. I sent another email. The email was sent to Thomas and the contact person at NPA. Short and sweet, we were almost broke and it may fall in a heap in the next three days. Maybe we would not get through the weekend and we were not sure what would happen with paying our hotel bill on check out. I hit send.

There was much to do in Latvia, Estonia, Finland and Sweden and the thought of a collapse at this point was a bitter pill to contemplate.

We drove into Riga and it seemed a little more backward than Vilnius as a city. It’s only an impression of driving in and can be counted on for nothing but that’s how it made me feel. Many derelict wooden buildings lined the road into town and there was a kind of shanty town around the edges of the city.


Many roads had ‘do not enter’ flags up as did many buildings. The ever present red top and bottom with the white bar through the centre was all around. The GPS seemed to be doing the right thing and was guiding us across town when we realised that all of these flags and signs were not ‘do not enter’ signs but the Latvian flag, a red flag with a white bar across it. Ooops!


There was no time to waste at the hotel so we hit the ground running. Bags were dumped in the creatively named ‘Best Hotel’ and we went in search of the Irish Embassy. Our contact there was the Second Secretary Aoife. She had contacted as many NGO’s as she could and we walked right into a briefing with some of them. These were a select few as we were to talk to a larger gathering of NGO’s the next day. They grasped the urgency of our visit and committed to getting busy with it. Mara was the director of the Latvian NGO platform and a very dynamic woman. Her contacts were second to none and she was a woman on a mission. She thought fast, acted fast, got the brief down, filled the gaps in the argument for her then got to work on it. Within hours, more contacts and opportunities were coming together for our few days in Latvia, a real one woman whirlwind.


The Irish Embassy shared the same building as the Graduate School of Law and Aoife had organised for us to speak to a class of students studying International Humanitarian Law under Dr Jane Smith. We marched out the back and across the shared square and up to the class. Jane Smith seemed to be another great mover and shaker. My original impression was that we may have been intruding a little in her class as it was mentioned that we had only half an hour to get lots of information out. I set the scene and Mette launched into details on the treaty and its creation. Conscious that the clock was ticking I tried to wrap us up in half an hour. Jane wouldn’t have it and wanted many questions answered. When she realised we were also involved in the creation of the Landmine Treaty she was even more interested as they look at that treaty in their studies now.

A great discussion was had with all and finally we really were out of time after and hour. More contacts made and many who would like to get involved. As we were leaving, Jane said that there was to be a reception tomorrow night for the Law Faculty and would we like to come. The guests would be the cream of the legal academic world and some strong national policy makers. More keys in more doors and more contacts to work towards the treaty. Out in the cold we found a pizza restaurant and settled in for dinner.

Aoife was another great Irish woman who was down to earth with an interesting past. A person with an extremely strong social conscience, she knew a few of the more inspiring and charismatic people that we had met in Ireland during the treaty negotiations. She certainly knew what being on the road was all about and after knowing us a grand total of three hours gave us the keys to her apartment and said we could do what we wanted from there. The one thing that is always hard to do while on the road is wash clothes and hotel laundry bills are normally more expensive than buying new ones.


“There’s a washing machine there, I bet that would be handy,” she said.

We had now been on the road 50 days with a shoestring budget trying to make every penny count and we were sick and tired of hand washing everything in hotel sinks and trying to get it all dry before we moved onto the next city. This woman really was gold. No wonder my Nordic ancestry married Irish women, they are so nice!

After the night in the hotel we woke early and headed back to the Irish Embassy to do a full presentation to a larger body of NGO’s. This session was meant to educate them and get them up to speed as fast as possible. They got the picture quickly then again asked the relevant questions re the Latvian position. Time was critical so all scattered and we would meet up at the NGO office in a few hours. Mette went to get some translations done by the Norwegian Embassy and I got a fact sheet sent urgently from London. We needed to give them a simple cheat sheet of likely questions and answers that would help in any negotiations. The information arrived and we were off to build a strong Latvian NGO argument.


Mette took the afternoon to work from Aoife’s apartment and put some clothes through the washing machine at the same time. Daniel and me finished of the fact sheets and interest from the media was beginning to roll in for tomorrow. Things were coming together well and at a great rate. A quick lap of the hotel transformed us into suit and tie guys and we picked up Mette and headed to the university to attend the reception.

I still felt a little uncomfortable that we may be gate crashing the faculty reception but the opposite was true. Jane was very pleased when we arrived and within second we were all engaged in lively conversations about International Humanitarian Law, the Landmines Treaty and the Cluster Munitions Treaty. As we have very intimate knowledge of the process and subtleties that made these treaties come into existence, the discussions kept the crowd and conversations lively all night. Various professors from around Europe asked if we could visit their universities in the future as the feedback from the day before had been exceptional. This was welcome news as the aim is to motivate people into actions and not just words. What I love about talking to students are their deeply enquiring minds and not taking anything at face value. Simply put they want us to prove it then prove it again and then, if satisfied with the response, they will lock in and engage in the argument.

I think I get an extra satisfaction from universities as it’s the quest for knowledge that I find so inspiring and a great teacher really does draw out the best in their students.

Aoife took us to a small bar with a cosy atmosphere and we ate and headed home. Mentally I was feeling drained. The day had been full speed but the lack of money was weighing on Mette and me heavily.

When we logged onto the internet at the hotel there was a message from our friend at NPA and she was horrified that the rescue money had not been paid to us. She had authorised it then it had made it to the finance department and promptly got sunk in an inbox of someone who was on sick leave. Nothing had happened. She had put on her size 6 ass kicking boots and sorted it out. She witnessed the transfer being made and we would see the money by Monday. That was really welcome news but still we might not get through the weekend. There was more to do in Riga on Friday and Saturday then we are to drive to Tallinn in Estonia on Saturday. We were now in a race against time. Which would run out first, our meagre credit or the time till Monday? If the money ran out first then we would not be able to leave Riga and everything planned for Tallinn would fall in a heap.

The work put into sorting out media was beginning to pay off as we had a long interview lined up for the national radio station first thing in the morning. We followed the GPS and experienced our second morning of horror traffic jams. Finally we got out of them and into the streets leading to the old town and the radio station when we couldn’t enter any streets as security was blocking every way flagyl price. I hate being late to anything, particularly an interview, so ripped out the GPS and Mette, Daniel and me headed off on foot to the directions given. Turn left in 200 metres, turn right, turn left. We were bolting down the streets till I swung around a corner and banged straight into a Nazi!

This put me on the back foot as the young clean cut guy with the skull and cross bone insignia over a swastika looked me in the eye. My mind raced as I though “What the hell is going on?” I looked down the street to my right and saw movie lights and actors and realised World War 2 was back in town. Apparently there was a big budget movie set in Warsaw being filmed in Riga as much of Riga resembles old Warsaw. Another double take and we were on our way again.

Daniel pipes up with one of his usual interesting observations.

“Hey maybe these guys are the reinforcements, it just took them 65 years to get here!” he says.

“Well if they are the reinforcements then they must have come from a breeding program somewhere,” says me.

The radio interview was with Didzis Melbiksis on Latvia’s national radio station. The segment would be aired at 6 pm and this has massive listener ship. Most Latvian’s get their news from radio as it saves buying a news paper so getting onto the prime time 6 o’clock spot was a real coup.


A massive ramshackle old government building was the home of the station in the old town of Riga and Didzis met us at the door. He was a very bright young journalist who had done his homework and the interview reflected this. We cut straight to the core of the matter and the issues that were bothering Latvia. The interview was long and detailed and when it ended, I couldn’t think of a corner that had not been covered. On the way out Didzis said that many politicians listen to his show so it would have put the issue on the front burner for them.

We had lost Davor as we bolted from the van but a final word was to see him at the Irish Embassy as it’s the only place we all knew. We walked through Riga and the ground was freezing and more snow was about. There are a lot of old people begging in Riga and that’s a really sad sight.

When the Russians left they also cleaned out the financial institutions and took the national pension scheme with them. Average people who had worked their whole lives and paid their taxes were left with nothing. The sight of old people begging is really sad as the system as completely failed them. Mette stopped and emptied her pocket for an old lady standing in the snow with her hand out. Although we were broke, the old lady was broker. She looked at her hand and saw there were at least five good hot meals there or 20 cheap ones. She burst into tears.


There must be a core to any society that looks after the most vulnerable people and the old and the young are those two groups. No point in having flash cars and designer clothes if grandma is standing in the snow trying to just survive.

Davor was at the embassy waiting so off we went again to finish the washing at Aoife’s flat. Daniel and Davor went back to the hotel and would pick us up just before our next TV interview planned for 3 pm outside of the offices of the Foreign Affairs Department. The TV program was Latvia’s best international current affairs show and we launched into a lively discussion. The questioning was quite hostile at times which is good as it lets me be attacked and defend and win a point. We bounced back and forth till the sun was setting and headed off with the cameraman to get a few shots of the van driving through Riga.

One more meeting for the day and this was back at the NGO forum. They had asked some expatriate Georgians to come in and talk to me about the problem in Georgia. This was definitely going to be hard for what I had to tell them has no happy ending.


We sat around the kitchen table in the office and I told them what I had seen in Georgia. I opened my computer and pulled up the photographs too and strike details and strike footage. Everything was for them to see. They now looked to me a lot like the Georgian Ambassador, very uncomfortable.

“Russia has screwed Georgia but, Georgia has screwed Georgia as well.”

They asked about one town or another, mainly because they must have family there, and were given straight appraisals as to what I saw.

“Bad there, no nothing evident there, didn’t get up there.”

Three very sombre looking guys left the office but new allies had been made to work against the use of cluster bombs. There was that simple lesson learned again here. If you use cluster bombs you create a horrendous legacy and if you use them for defence you destroy your own land and people.

I needed one more thing before the day was done. I needed a copy of the Landmine Monitor Report. This is a 1000 page bible of facts and information of all the countries of the world in regards to landmines. As a research document it is very impressive and I wanted a copy to take with me to the upcoming meeting at Foreign Affairs. Emails to Canada and back connected us with Igor, the Latvian Landmine Monitor researcher. He agreed to lend us a copy and drove it over to the office for us. As transparency and reporting were key issues of concern to the Latvians, we felt we would be able to satisfy them with a copy of this.

Back in the hotel I saw a report on BBC World Service about the Georgian President. He was seriously being challenged for power over the conflict. In particular he was being attacked for the Georgian use of cluster bombs. Well I couldn’t agree more. With leadership like his and orders given to blast their own country and people, he really is unfit for office. This is what you get with stupid tough guy politics.

A pile of pizzas were taken back to Daniels room and devoured. We knew that anything left over would not go to waste as Dog Boy would vacuum up what was still in the boxes in the morning. The morning came and Daniel arrived with his bags and the pizza box at the car. He was already munching a wedge of pepperoni with a thick layer of coagulated fat solidified over the surface.

“Anyone want some? It’s still really good!” he said.

Ah, no thanks, as wonderful as it looks, no thanks.

He happily woofs it down and we are almost out of Riga. There was one last stop to make and this was to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Although it was Saturday, they were working. There was a public holiday on Tuesday but they then had to make it up by working Saturday. How does that make it a public holiday?


The meeting was with Ieve Jirgensone, who is the acting Head of the Arms Control Division, and Diana Krieva, the Second Secretary for Arms Control and Non Proliferation Division. This was a good level to be talking at and the discussion was very candid. I really expected it to be more guarded but all cards were on the table. They were really frustrated with Defence. Simply put, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs wants to sign the treaty and has drafted all the relevant paper work. Only this week had Defence raised objections and the objections were paranoid diversions. A round table debate was to be held between the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Defence on Tuesday and the Prime Minister would then decide on whether to sign the treaty or not.

The arguments put up by Defence were really weak to us and the same old tired excuses that have been trawled up time and time again. The issue of interoperability was raised and crushed, what about Russia was counted with them being members of NATO, the example of Georgia as a David and Goliath struggle was turned into Goliath took what he wanted and David destroyed his own home. There were still a handful of issues that we would follow up on with a few concrete facts and figures and a couple of bizarre scenarios that Defence had raised. We took these in our stride and promised to have answers to all the questions by Monday morning in time for the meeting on Tuesday.

Finally we turned north to Estonia and the city of Tallinn.


Our balmy days were now well and truly over as mile after mile the winter closed in on us. Darkness filled most of the day and a general gloom hung over everything. The sun was almost gone at 3 pm then well and truly dark by 4. The drive to Vilnius took about five hours and Daniel and Davor rejoiced at their escape from hillbilly heaven. Personally I liked Poland and would love to come back in a summer but probably agreed with them that a better hotel could be found. Still, it fulfilled the main criteria, it was cheap!


Driving into the Baltic States felt like a degree of pressure was beginning to lift from us. The traffic wasn’t so bad and the capitals aren’t so big that you get lost in them. The GPS seemed calmer too as we made it to our hotel easily. The hotel was a little cheap and cheerful just behind the Irish Embassy. As the Irish were again hosting us it made it very easy for us in setting up for the press conference there in the morning. The rooms were great but the one Mette and me had stank of very stale cigarette smoke. It really stank! We gagged as we came in the door but with the window open for awhile it became quickly more habitable.

All of us seemed to be feeling the ware of our time on the road and were starting to run a little slowly. We also had the continual pressure of lack of budget as the promised budget had still not been paid to us. Credit cards were bursting at the seems and another financial collapse was only days away.

A walk around town revealed a really beautiful city. Everywhere had classic architecture and in great condition. Something that really stood out was the complete lack of graffiti. Graffiti is a pet hate of mine particularly in old historical classical cities like this where gangs of teenage youths usually trawl the cities tagging any clean wall they come across. My response to this would be to either catch them and have them publicly scrub the walls clean, or run them off with a stock whip. Sadly, the politically correct climate we now live in means neither are acceptable.

After dinner we were back in the stinky room with windows open and the seasons first snow falling outside. We had to be setting up in the Irish Embassy at 9.30 am so set the alarm for 8.30. Just after the alarm sounded Davor called our room.


“What time is our meeting in the Irish Embassy,” he asks.
“9.30,” was the reply.
“It’s 9.30 now,” he says.

Panic blasts us out of bed at the realisation that we have entered a new time zone when crossing into Lithuania. Dressed, out the door and hauling pictures up the back stairs of the Irish Embassy in under 5 minutes.

Every country has their own problems and the Lithuanian problem is a new government being formed today. This soaks up a lot of press and political engagement. With the room at the Irish Embassy set up we wondered if anyone would come. Four journalists arrived and into the talk we went. More attending would have been better but one great article is better than a bunch of little scraps of news. The journalists who came got right into the story and we were able to discuss the issue in real depth. One journalist was also somewhat hostile and negative about the treaty and the lack of Russia or America coming. A detailed discussion of the concept of stigmatisation ensued and the example of the landmines treaty was with us again. By the end of the discussion all were convinced and went away to write.

Our next action was to be a public one in the main square across the street. Mette had gone there when I started the press conference and had the Ban Bus and what photographs I didn’t use set up around it.

So much happening in Vilnius and our next surprise was in the central square was to be a big army parade today. Lithuanians stopped and looked at the photos and were really interested in what it was all about. Universally we were told that they thought a treaty was essential. I don’t think we had done a public action before that had such a positive impact with the local people.


The army turned up in busses and parked behind us. They looked at us and the photographs and seemed somewhat uncomfortable by the subject matter. This just made me laugh as an army parade would be held with a backdrop of cluster bombs and injured people. That’s beautiful! The busses all unloaded and the companies formed up on the square.

A ranting official came over in a fluster and said we couldn’t be here and that we had to go and this was an army day and the parade would take place here. No problem, we can share and they were most welcome to do their parade with our backdrop. Not good enough for him, we had to go. I had no intention of going anywhere and handed him our written permission to hold our action. He looked at it and said it meant nothing to him and we had to go. I asked if he could read Lithuanian and offered a translation if that would help. This enraged him even more. I told him our approval meant a lot to me and we weren’t moving and by the way, who the hell was he and did he have some identification. This really made him boil as he couldn’t produce an ID.

“Then you mean nothing to me,” I said. “Some guy walks off the street and tells us to go and can’t produce any official authorisation. We aren’t going anywhere.”

The crowds were forming and more and more people were looking at our display as Adolph gets more and more agitated.

“Call the police and have us arrested if you are so sure we are breaking the law or find someone with authority and identification to talk to us,” says me.

This annoys him even more and he starts to dial numbers. Finally he calls the guy who issued our approval and he is partly beaten.

“Ok, you can be here, but not there,” pointing to some photos on the pavement.

We move the few offending pictures and he storms off in a huff. He single handed did more to publicise our event than anything we could have done.

The square erupted into men marching up and down and up and down. One bit of brass walked all the way over to us just so he could walk all the way back again and take a salute. Stomp stamp thump clunk, turn two three, thump clink clank stomp stamp and back and forth they went.


The brass band blasted out the theme from Star Wars and all adjourned for a smoke on the rise behind. A plume of blue emerged from the masses. We were getting towards dark, although we had now gained an extra magic hour, and packed up till it was time for the reception to be hosted by the Norwegian Ambassador at his residence.

Only the house keeper of the Norwegian Ambassador was home and she let us in and gave us the run of the place. Photos were distributed everywhere and the projector set up. All was ready for a mystery amount of guests.


The Ambassador arrived and was afraid that we were about to crash and burn as the formation of the new government was keeping them in parliament both day and night. The Austrian Ambassador arrived to lend extra diplomatic weight as did a few key NGO’s. I was pleased to see the arrival of representatives from Foreign Affairs and then a representative from the Seimas, the Lithuanian parliament.

We didn’t have the numbers but did have the quality so once more into the fray we dove to leave them all with no question but a ban being the only way. The dynamics of working a small crowd came into play again as they all felt that were getting the individual treatment. It really didn’t take too long till a few tears were shed by some as I was at them at full speed.


The end signalled a round of drinks and finger food as we all chatted and met. The girl from the parliament was very pleased she came and was looking forward to getting back to her work and spread the word about Lithuania signing with renewed vigour. I am sure they will sign but the message to them is that they need to overcome their government change and just get the Lithuanian Ambassador in Oslo to be at the ceremony on the 3rd and sign.

Lithuania was our last country that was sympathetic to a ban so far. The rest were all either on the fence or openly hostile to the treaty process. The morning would get us to Riga in Latvia.


The road now turns north and all the dashing from east to west across Europe is over. This also means we will be driving into ever worsening weather. Leaving Bratislava is easy and not the traffic nightmare we have become used to. Make a few turns, onto the freeway, then, before you know it you are out of town. The roads are reasonable but not brilliant as these countries are new to the EU and haven’t had the years of financial injection into their road systems. The high speed Autobahns of Germany are behind us now but maybe that’s not such a bad thing. We meander along and the GPS settles into conflicting instructions till we need to eat. We are in a Slovakian ski area and find a café that’s open.


This is one of our best moments of none communication as we can’t work out the menu and just take pot luck on what a point to the card brings. Mette did manage to get through that she wanted fish though so she was maybe more ahead of the game than us. When lunch arrived we all got something like a gnocchi, I think, with some slices of salami on top. Mette did trump us after all and got a fish. My meal was nothing special but ok, but Mette’s fish seems to have died of old age in 1968 and been decaying in a freezer ever since. Even its head was withered and sunken and if it could have had false teeth it would have. Not sure if fish use walking sticks but that was maybe what came with it as it did not resemble any vegetable I knew. She gave what salad there was a picking over then ceremoniously placed the slice of lemon over its face and the sign it was ready for burial. Personally I would not have done that as the slice of lemon seemed to be the only thing on her plate worth eating.

The old border crossing between Slovakia and Poland was very lack lustre affair as no more that an empty toll booth on a single lane road. No matter as we were now in Poland. Last time I was in Poland was very different, even though it was only five years ago. Then I was invited to an exhibition of my work hosted by the First Lady and Polish Red Cross. The big difference from then to now was then I needed a visa and Poland still had plenty of left overs from the communist system.

Then it wasn’t much time to get things sorted so I bought a ticket from Australia to Warsaw and gave my passport to a professional visa company to sort the paper work out. The next day I received a call from a guy from the visa company who said the Polish Embassy in Sydney would not issue me a visa. They said it would take a minimum of two weeks and could not be done in four days.

“Where are you now?” I asked.
“Outside the embassy,” he said.
“Ok, go inside and find someone in the visa section and give him the phone,” says me.

I hear footsteps as he enters the building a says, “It’s for you,” to someone in the visa section.

“Hello, my name is John Rodsted and I gather there is some kind of problem in issuing me a visa for Poland.”

Grunt, “It is not possible to issue visa in such short time, We have procedure and this applies to anyone, even you. You may make application through normal channels and visa can be issued in two weeks, not before, it is not possible before……” says soon to be unemployed embassy hack.

“I see,” says me, “you obviously haven’t read the accompanying letter of invitation from the Presidents wife, your First Lady, Jolanta Kwasniewska. She will be opening an exhibition of my work in Poland at the University Bibliotech and when she looks to me during the opening ceremony I will not be there because you have denied me a visa. I gather official invitations of this level mean nothing to you so I except your power but need to report this back to Warsaw, so, what is your name and how do I spell that?”

I could sense him reading the invitation and a quaver warbled through his voice. “Umm, Oh, Umm,,,,,”

“Now, at the moment we have a large problem and that problem is 100% you, so, if you can’t find a solution then I will make it my life’s ambition to destroy your diplomatic career so you can spend what remaining years you have in outer Mongolia stamping the arses of yaks!!!! Fix this problem or suffer the consequences!!!!!!!”

He went into melt down and began to apologise profusely. “No sir, I am sorry sir, I did not realise sir, of course there is no problem sir, I issue the visa as we speak now sir, very sorry for any misunderstanding sir.”

“Now I am very pleased you have seen it fit to facilitate the issue of the visa. Keep it in mind I am in Melbourne and you in Sydney so I suggest you get it expressed to me, at your expense, immediately,” says me.

“Yes sir, of course sir, I trust all is satisfactory for you now sir?” he says.

“Yes, thank you, all is now satisfactory as long as my passport and visa arrive before my flight leaves, oh, and by the way, what is your name and HOW DO I SPELL THAT?”

The little despot was almost in tears at this point as the visa courier guy walked outside with the line still open.

“That was the funniest thing I have ever seen! These guys are always like this and I have no idea what you said but the effect was priceless!” said the visa company guy.

“Are you confident it will all go through in time?” I ask.

“Yes, definitely, even if he gets on a flight tonight and hand delivers it, you’ll get it,” says he.

“Was he wearing a shit suit, baggy, ill fitting, ugly tie, crap haircut?” I ask.

“Yes, how did you know?” he says.

“It just figures,” says me.

The passport arrived the next morning and I was on my way. A very fancy stamp but you know my thoughts on fancy stamps in passports.

Our first stop this time was to be in Katowice, a large regional town in the south of the country. The GPS kicked into a rare moment of normal behaviour and took us straight to the hotel. It was the perfect location as it was right next door to the university that we were to be speaking at in the morning.

Lidia was working with Polish Red Cross with a specialty in International Humanitarian Law. They had organised a forum about landmines and cluster bombs to be held at the university along with the opening of the exhibition “Miss Landmine”. Miss Landmine was a photographic exhibition undertaken by Morten Traavik and Gorm Gaare. They travelled to Angola and hosted a beauty pageant for women who had been injured by landmines. The theme was ‘All have the right to be beautiful’. As a subject this was a bit far out for me but then who am I to judge the work and participation of others. The photos seemed to have been done in a dignified manner and the subjects were obviously enjoying the project. I have probably spent too much time in the blood and guts side of life to objectively appreciate something like this anyway.

The media arrived early and interviewed everyone connected to the day and the issue of landmines and cluster bombs was well and truly on the agenda nationally again. This is always the goal, to stick a big media pin in the bums of government over the issue. This was a perfect warm up for tomorrow as that would be in Warsaw and be a press conference and reception. The following day would be political meetings.

The university forum kicked off with a PHD student who was doing her thesis on landmines and cluster bombs and the new norms of creating treaties. She gave an excellent, if not long winded, explanation of the highs and lows of the landmines and cluster bomb treaties. We had a full house but as the forum was to continue for many hours I wondered how long we could keep all of these students interested.

The second speaker was a retired army Major of Engineers. He was very boring and went on and on and on a bit more about the technical differences between different types of landmines and cluster bombs. Although he was to give a technical overview, much of his information was vastly out of date and inaccurate. He then began to talk about the treaties in regards to certain weapons and systems and it was plainly obvious that he had no idea what he was talking about. This is always a problem with either serving or ex military personnel as they act like experts and bluff their way through, quite often convincingly, through subjects they know nothing about. I was getting quite agitated waiting to speak as I wanted to throw a shoe at him. “Bullshit, you’re wrong, get off!!!”


Many of the students saw through him too and began to filter out. Some needed to get to other classes while others were just plain bored now. He finished and a break was called for coffee and snacks. The last two speakers to go were a girl who had worked with Handicap International in Angola and me. I never have a problem holding an audience and felt the girl from HI would be good too but would we actually have an audience after the break.

I was the first to speak after the break and sadly had about 30% of the people who were there at the start. Some are always better than none so up went the pictures and I got stuck in. The familiar take wove continent to continent and war to war with the cap off being comments on the Polish position.

Firstly, when it came to the landmine treaty, Poland signed it as one of the early countries but have never ratified it. Their signing was 11 years ago! This is a very cynical misuse of the spirit of the treaty and unique to Poland. That simple fact surprised many students and a sense of national shame crept through the room.

The second point was in regards to cluster bombs, they didn’t want to sign and a full ban was not their objective. The same point for Greece was relevant for Poland, if they did use cluster bombs then it would be on their own soil. The sense of national shame turned to national outrage. Poles would destroy Poland. Poland had a real hammering during World War 2 and it took decades to sort out. Warsaw is the only place that I know of in the world with a statue to deminers as they did so much for so long to return the country to normal use.


When we finished and came out I found that Mette and Davor had set all the pictures up outside the University and were holding their own cluster awareness campaign. They were going at it hard too as they had the secret picture up as well. The secret picture is one of the bloodiest I have of a deminer lying on a hospital bed with his arm blown off to the elbow. Inches of bone protrude from the mangled flesh that hangs limp from the gurney. It’s a show stopper and a photo I usually reserve for politicians and diplomats. They had created a great presence and Davor had spent the day talking to all who stopped to look.

The Ban Bus was packed up again and we were on the road to Warsaw.

The directions we had took us to central Warsaw, near the University, then deposited us in a city square. Looking about, there was no hotel here. In fact it wasn’t a hotel we were after but a hostel. Cheap and hopefully cheerful.

The GPS was adamant that this was the place and no amount of reprogramming would sway it from its opinion. Looking about there was a walking mall and a few park benches. Maybe the GPS had worked out we were broke and needed to start sleeping in the street. Heading off in different directions we went in search of the hotel with no success. Finally we had to resort to calling out Polish friend Kasia.


I have known Kasia since she became involved in the landmines issue as a student many years ago. It was she who organised the Polish exhibition five years ago and has since grown to be the full time campaigns officer for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. We have been firm friends as long as we have known each other and the event five years ago really raised the profile of landmines in Poland.

As it was the First lady who opened that event, all the Polish great and good flocked to the opening ceremony and wanted to share the lime light. Put up a soap box and the world will come. I took Jolanta for a lap of the exhibition after the opening ceremony and told her nothing but what was in front of her. The stories ran her over and eventually her eyes filled with tears. She wasn’t getting out of it that easily and I kept on till we ran out of photographs.

“So what’s it going to take to get Poland to do something about this?” I said.

We succeeded in raising the profile, got good media and still no movement.

Now fives years on we are trying to sort out Poland in regards to both landmines and cluster bombs. They are still as entrenched and we are years older and wiser too.

Kasia and me have always had a joke that she is my Polish wife. Mette might be the love of my life and partner but Kasia has the one and only Polish wife status! If I’m not calling her ‘wifey’ then it’s Miss Poland. When the banter gets going between the two of us it generally creates confusion to all around us. Mette just rolls her eyes and goes the other way saying “I’ll just leave you two little love birds to it shall I?”

Wifey appears from the end of the street at the same time that Mette appears from the opposite direction. Mette has found our place. It’s a carved up flat around the corner and we have three rooms there. We settle in and break into our bottle of Metaxa that has been with us since Greece and get a few burgers and other associated cholesterol delicacies. The next day was to be a busy one and between the logistics of Mette and Kasia, we had a full day planned.


We were beginning with a press conference at the National Press Centre then a formal reception hosted by the Irish Ambassador. The National Press Centre was festooned with our photographs and a panel was set up. The room filled with a mixture of journalists form radio, TV and print and we launched into our messages. Branislav and Firoz had both also flown in to add extra weight to the events. Branislav is our Serb deminer friend who lost both arms and legs to a cluster bomb in 2000 and Firoz lost both legs to a landmine in Afghanistan when he was only 14 years old.

The messages were delivered well and with passion and we opened for questions. One after another asked various things till a radio journalist made a show stopper of a statement with a question attached.

“In regards to the use of cluster bombs in Georgia, our Polish Foreign Affairs Minister has said that cluster bombs aren’t so bad as he survived a cluster strike in Afghanistan as a journalist and doesn’t see the big deal about them. How do you see this and can you comment please?”

A bit of a stunned silence crept along the table and I sensed that no local wanted to make a personal attack on the minister. I put my hand up and said “I’d love to comment.” Up until now we had done all through an interpreter but I felt that all the journalists spoke English well.

“Do you understand my Australian English?” I asked.

“Yes,” was the reply.

“Then I’ll be very careful with my choice of words. I don’t give a damn what happens on a battle field and an experience of someone hiding in a bunker, I care about civilians after the war. Your minister has a Hollywood view of war and must believe that Rambo is real. I challenge him to come out to Georgia or any other country affected by cluster bombs and do something simple, like, dig the ground and put a crop in or cut some fire wood or rebuild a house or something equally as life threatening. It’s about civilians after conflicts end, not about rodent journalists in hidey holes.”

The mood was tense and a ‘right then’ attitude crept through the room. Next stupid question please. After a few more questions the conference broke up and we all started to do individual interviews with the press. The press is all about conflict so by hitting back at the minister we were guaranteed coverage. That same journalist came up for a bit more of a chat and she loved the answer she got to her question and would run with it. I also met a defence journalist who writes for the most influential Polish Defence Journal.

He was not what I expected and had a very open mind, he was also well briefed and wanted to do a very in depth piece. We sat and talked a bit and he said he was coming to the reception this evening and wanted to do a more in depth interview then.

I left the rest chatting as I wanted to get the pictures around the corner and set up in the Irish Embassy. The Embassy was only 50 metres away so it was easy to just carry the material around the corner then up to the 6th floor. The Irish had given us an excellent room and as I browsed the invitee list was impressed as they had a perfect balance of international diplomatic, local and international NGO’s and representatives of the Polish government and military. Pulling a reception off is all in who you get there. If you get the right crowd and match it with the right words then mountains can move.

All was made ready and the caterers arrived and set up the food and drinks. Data Projector and computer queued, dummy cluster bombs ready, photos around the room. Time to chill out a little before they arrived.


The thing I really love about the Irish is that they are so down to earth. The diplomatic staff from all levels just get stuck in to whatever needs doing. Eddie, the first secretary and Maurice the second were great guys who were up for anything that needed doing. They felt strongly about the treaty and Irelands role in the process and didn’t want to let anyone down. They also knew how difficult the Polish government has been and wanted to help smooth the way so that they might join the treaty process. They had done their level best to turn on a good reception and it was up to us to close the deal by nailing the audience.

I went back around to the press centre and all were tucking into kebabs. I was so hungry but can’t eat before I do a talk as I have an ulcer, a painful reminder of years in the remote places eating god knows what. Always talk with an empty stomach as any additions can turn me into a heart burned, antacid chewing wreck. Not a good way to stand up to diplomats.

Our start time was to be 5.30 pm and the guests arrived on time and filtered in. I did a final check of the gear and found my computer had gone into some kind of meltdown and would not talk to the data projector. A mild panic ensued as I shut everything down and began to reboot it all. My computer is getting old and grumpy, a lot like me, and takes forever to start let alone sort and open 200 images. I finally hit all the right buttons and it comes back to life and all of what I need is open and ready to go. This has taken me over 20 minutes to sort out. As soon as I put the cable in the projector the ambassador comes up and asks if we should start now.

He begins by welcoming everyone and sets the scene. Firoz spoke about his life as a landmine survivor and Red Cross made a statement.

“Does anyone else have anything to add?” he said.

At that he wrapt things up and thanked everyone for coming. I thought, as did the others, he meant did anyone else in the room wish to make a statement and this didn’t apply to me.

I nudged him and said, “Umm, yes, I might add a little something.”

“Oh, of course, of course, the Ban Bus, of course.”


I kicked in at full speed and warmed up to a good pace. The nice thing about a reception like this is that the room is small enough to be able to speak very personally to all. I try to make very direct eye contact during these things to everyone at least once. I also pick on people who are targets like the guy from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the army officer. The talk becomes very personal and I can sense that they are feeling the pressure and I work them over as best I can till the end comes. This is such an important time as this is when you can generate good conversations after softening them up.

The army officer is standing alone, looking a little like a fart in a space suit, so I head over to introduce myself. Part of the talk is about military command responsibility and he agrees whole heartedly. I had found an unlikely ally in him as he thought that cluster bombs should be banned along with landmines. We both agree that it just inhibits the ability to respond quickly to any threat on the ground. Pursuing an enemy into an area you have cluster struck or mined will only cost the lives of your soldiers. The enemy can actually use your use of these weapons to their own advantage by keeping them between then and you.

No point talking to him as he agrees with me. I want the $10 argument so find the representative from Foreign Affairs. Maciej Falkowski is the Divisional Head of the Department of Security and Policy of the Ministry for Froeign Affairs. This become far more lively and we really hook into each other. He had just returned from Geneva and the yet again failed CCW and was angry about the outcome. He blamed the 26 countries who rejected Wigotski’s text and thought that the CCW is the only forum for disarmament talks. I hook into him about how CCW has always failed and that was what many countries wanted, status quo lack of any real progress. I push the conversation into the stupidity of using clusters for defence and that you would create your own night mare and he responded by trying to just talk me down. You know you’ve got them when they start the yelling match! It’s heated and I can tell so much by his open hostility. He knows that the Polish position is losing ground and as a result, they are being isolated and marginalised. Yet again they are on the wrong side of an international movement.


The evening winds up with an in depth interview with the defence reporter and we pack the place up and head off with the Irish First Secretary to a local restaurant for a meal. The guy from MFA says goodbye and we both admit to enjoying the very candid go to between each other. Get it out there! It’s better to be heard than side step issues.

The Irish are so laid back and Eddie is a guy you just like from the start. Ireland is a country that has a great tradition of peace building for they are a neutral country but have participated in so many peace keeping missions around the world. They know war as the horror for what it is and do so much to stop it. That’s why they stepped up as a leader in the creation of the treaty. In our trip around Europe they have been right there each and every time asked to try and connect diplomatic dots for us.

The morning brings out last meeting and this is at the MFA with the Deputy Secretary of State, a representative from the Military and the guy from last night, Maciej Falkowski. We have Kasia, Fiorz, Branislav and the head of the Polish Red Cross.

The deputy head says they are there to listen so listen they will. Kasia starts the discussion then it passes to Firoz then Branislav then me. We hit them with every end of the Landmine and Cluster Bomb problems and you could see they were defensive and didn’t like to meet our eyes.

The conversation swings towards the landmine treaty. As Poland signed it eleven years ago they then should have then ratified it. Ratifying a treaty is when you enshrine it into your national law. Only then is it binding to your citizens. They put it off and put it off with one lame excuse after the other till finally they set the date of 2006 for ratification. This is really an outrage to have their ratification on hold for nine years. It gets better, 2006 is one year after their national election. The new government then rejects the 2006 date then pushes the ratification date back to 2015! There is pressure put on Poland both internally and externally and as a concession bring the ratification back to 2012. This would now be fifteen years after signing. The next catch, its one year after their next election!!! They can’t be serious. They certainly couldn’t look us in the eye and say it. To add insult to their injury their stockpile of about one million landmines is out of date and needs destruction any way. They admit that they will destroy four hundred thousand this year in any case. This makes any practical reasons to stay outside the treaty a mute point. They are just playing stupid political games.

We finally hit a dead end there so move onto the cluster treaty. The Polish position here is as convoluted as their landmine position. They try to duck and weave any direct statements but inch by inch we drag their concerns out.

”Poland is not an aggressive nation and has no plans to attack anyone”, says me.

”We only have cluster bombs to defend ourselves, we would never use them on another country,” says Mr Deputy.

“You mean to say that you will bombard Poles on Polish territory using Polish made cluster bombs,” says me.

“No, we will never use them on our people, just on an enemy,” says he.

“An enemy on Polish land which puts them amongst Polish people,” says me.

“And the cluster bombs you have you have manufactured?” says Branislav.

“Yes,” said Military guy, “A 98% reliability rate.”

“There is no such munition with a 98% reliability rate, nothing,” says me, “Have they ever been tested un combat?”

“Umm, no, but they are very good,” says soldier boy.

Mr MFA from last night has been quiet and weighs in with a few words about the CCW as the only forum that should discuss these issues. There is then maybe a little slip when he says that they do not want a ban on cluster bombs at all. They like them and will use them if needed, but only in defence and only within Poland.

With leadership like this, heaven help the poor Polish people if ever there is a conflict! Another country with the suicide defence strategy.

We pack up and move outside and all is very cordial for our departure. We all thank each other for the frank dialogue and leave. The press is waiting outside and immediately we start giving them our reflections. The simple point that hits hard is the fact they will bomb Poles, on Polish territory, with Polish cluster bombs and create their own home spin Polish nightmare. Hasn’t Poland suffered enough in history? Obviously the answer to that is not yet.

The next day we head out of Warsaw and on the way north to the Baltic States. Our next engagements are in Vilnius in Lithuania. This is the first time we have a day up our sleeve and Mette is desperate not to be in a city. Just as we are dashing out of the hostel, she finds a place in the north that says it’s on a lake. That’s good enough for her and she makes a booking and we have some where to go. The drive out of Warsaw couldn’t be done without a visit to the worlds only monument to deminers.

As Poland was hammered during World War 2 there was a massive landmine problem left over. The army Engineering regiments took on the task and it took decades to make the country impact free. This is not mine free, just the worse of the impact is reduced. Down by the river is a huge bronze statue of a guy on his kneed lifting out a mine. There are fresh flowers here and some candles burning. Around him are concrete ‘blasts’ coming out of the ground with panels on them showing all the work of the engineers. To the side are more brass plagues with all the names of the deminers who were killed cleaning Poland. There are many names.

I was keen to see it again, as I was here five years ago, but Branislav was very interested in seeing it. We all headed off in the rain, met in a soggy avenue and parked the vans. Although Branislav has lost his hands and legs he can still drive a motorised wheel chair so that and he are unpacked and away we go. It seemed strangely poignant to be in this place in the rain and gloom to pay respects to those who have died trying to make their country safe.


The long avenue comes to the statues profile and it’s a scene anyone who has done the real deal know all too well. We linger back a little as Branislav heads off towards it at full power. When he gets near there are steps and he is stopped. You can see the disappointment on his face so we head out to find another way. Mette finds a way through the gardens and he is soon in front of it. The eyes gaze intently down and the face is darkened by the weather and a drop of rain drips from his nose and finger tips. Another single step stops him again and we pick up his wheel chair and get him face to face with the monument. He looks at it for a long time then snaps back into our world.

“Picture, I want some picture here,” he says.

We take photos of him and us together and finally unfurl the banner that says “Ban Cluster Bombs”. The shutter is clicked and the moment is made. As we stand and talk Diego from Italy arrives. That guy is everywhere! His girlfriend is Polish and they have had a week here together. The meeting is short but great to see him. No it really was time to get the Ban Bus on the road. Our GPS does a few rights and lefts and we drive in a massive traffic jam of those exiting Warsaw for the weekend. This might take awhile.

After a few hours of traffic carnage we are on the road to the north and Mette’s hotel by the lake. The light is already fading as its gloomy at 3.30 pm and dark by 4. We have miles farther to go north so this is not a great sign. What happened to Greece and the café under the Acropolis with great wine and food. That seems like a life time ago but in reality was only six weeks.

It rains, its dark, the drivers are crazy and the miles tick away. Finally we are in the general vicinity and Mette makes a call to get more directions. A tiny side road is found and the guy from the hotel says he will come to the ‘White Church’ to meet us. At this point our two resident city slickers, Daniel and Davor, start making all sorts of comments about being in the boonies. Daniel starts humming the tune from ‘Deliverence’ and Davor is on about ‘Fucking Grizzly Bear behind every tree!!’


Martin is the son of the owner and meets us at the church and we follow him deeper into small tracks in the woods. This has Daniel and Davor now trying to out do each other with the horrors that await us at the end. ‘Cannibals, they might be cannibals, we will be locked in the basement and eaten.’ With all of this babble going on that’s maybe not such a bad idea, at least for those two.

We arrive and find a nice little summer lodge that is now off season. They have only a few guests in summer but still stay open for the trade. The place is warm and cosy with lots of dead skins around. You don’t want to be a wild pig around here, not a healthy occupation. There are four others staying here too and they say hello as we check in. We ask about food and they say we can have white sausage or stuffed meat. Mette goes for the white sausage and the rest of us opt for the stuffed meat.

What arrived for Mette looked like a boiled horses cock. What we got was not so much stuffed meat as meat stuff! As we were hungry we tucked in but only to the level required to sustain life. I have eaten some garbage but this was really bad. Daniel and davor start the ‘I told you so’ lines as we look around us. Cousin Billy Bob is in the kitchen with a fag dangling from his mouth doing something while the other guests are beginning a massive bender on home made vodka. Special, as one toast leads to the next glass being drained and slammed down. I can feel an early night coming on. The city boys are too antsy to hit the sack at this hour so head off in search of, well, life.

Mette and me have been asleep only two hours when awoken by some serious drunken yelling. It wasn’t aggressive yelling but oh so pissed. My thought of a good night sleep is shattered as they thump up the stairs waking the dead. I am now wide awake now as they belt into the room next door, turn on the TV, overturn the furniture and try for a bit of flaccid noisy sex. Oh for a gun, it would be the only humane thing to do. Grunt, fart and rumble comes through the wall but for only a short while. They fall silent but their TV doesn’t.

I lay there trying to sleep but to no avail and stay eyes open till 5.30am. I am so angry at the loss of my sleep as I haven’t had a good sleep in weeks and the idea of Mette’s lake hideaway sounded great.

I thought of the rumpy pumpy couple next door and Shakespeare popped into my head. Its the gatehouse scene from Macbeth. All are drunk and someone come to the castle gate. The gatekeeper basically says that alcohol makes you horny but takes away the performance but does produce a lot of urine. I was sure I’d hear the toilet next door flush soon.

Breakfast was as good as dinner with Davor asking what it could be.

“Egg,” came the reply.

“What with,” asks Davor?


A culinary treat. Mette and me took a walk around the lake at it way really beautiful. All places seemed closed for the winter and punts and paddle boats were all pulled up on shore. In the woods at the far end was an old bunker complex from World War 2, another reminder that their history was not far behind them.

Not being able to face more white sausage and meat stuff we all drove to the nearest town as Daniel and Davor had been on a reconnoitre there. They had hit the jackpot with a Greek restaurant and we feasted on memories of Athens before the mornings push onto Lithuania.


The morning dawns with buckets of rain pouring down outside as we weigh up what to do. We don’t back down ever so head off and find the location. Davor parks the Bus in front of a statue of a bare chested guy wearing a cape with a submachine gun and two nasty looking nuns behind him. No idea what this statue is about but its fitting for the day. The rain has gone from steady to a down pour as we cower in the Bus wondering what to do next. No one wants to brave the elements and I am still not over the flu. There is a knock on the window and a soaked girl says she is press and here for an interview. This is the spark we needed so unpacked the van and photographs were set out along the street. More media turned up and interviews were given to the papers and radio. Stalking up and down the soaking street we handed out flyers and got some signatures. After a few hours of this, the Irish Ambassador arrived and dragged us off for coffee. We were soaked and the diversion to a warm café was very welcome. She briefed us on what was planned for Monday and we headed back out to work the streets.

By 2 pm we had had enough and packed up our sodden display and headed to the hotel. Unpacking in the underground car park we dried and wiped everything then repacked the van. Sunday was to be a day of consolidation so after the inability to sleep in we got to work early again. Logistics on the run are hard so a day in a hotel is so needed to try and lock down future plans. We emailed and called various contacts for the coming week. Hotels are booked and ferries found to get the Ban Bus between Estonia and Finland and Finland and Sweden. The next mornings meetings were to be important ones and we wanted to have all our logistics out of the way to be able to really focus on the job at hand.

Our morning meeting was to be with the Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Department of Slovakian Foreign Affairs. Milan Ciganik was an affable bureaucrat who seemed well briefed on the problems at hand. Like all meetings with senior ministry people we needed to edge our way up to the main topic. I thought I’d break the ice and open the conversation in an Australian way.

“So, lets cut to the chase, why not just sign the treaty and we can then go to the pub.” He laughs and I feel the ice has been now broken.

We start talking about the need for a ban and the challenges faced by Slovakia in getting to the treaty. He doesn’t have any strong objections to the treaty or the obligations of it. His remarks are more about the slowness of Slovakian bureaucracy and the cost of stockpile destruction. These are semantics and not reasons to stay outside of the treaty. We also pushed the point that they could turn this into a positive move and they could set up commercial stockpile destruction for other countries too. The final point we made that seemed to really hit home was that the world would divide on Dec 3. There will be those that are into the treaty and those that are outside of it from that date. It will become the good guys and the bad guys and all the focus on those outside of the treaty will be about them being bad guys. Slovakia is desperate to be seen as a good EU partner and is more conscious of their international reputation than most other countries. As, according to him, Slovakia has no major problem with the treaty then it would be wise to be a good guy and not a bad guy.

We left the meeting with a reasonably positive feel that they were not entrenched in a negative position and movement soon was possible. Whether they could move before Dec 3 is another matter but now they know what is coming if they don’t sign.

The afternoon was to be a reception at the Irish Embassy and they had invited a broad range of people from Slovakian government, the media and local NGO’s. This had to be a good strong gloves off approach to bend them all from their safe diplomatic worlds into the land of cluster bombs.


We arrived early and roadied all of the exhibition photographs up to the embassy that was atop of the Carlton building in the centre of Bratislava. The room was transformed and the caterers set up a buffet lunch for all. I set up my computer and data projector and all was set for a solid whacking of the audience.

As the invitees arrived, we met politely and chatted in that small talk kind of way, exchanging cards and pleasantries. The quality of the crowd was excellent and all began tucking into the food. We had a few key ambassadors arrive too, particularly the ambassadors from Finland and Sweden. Both countries have been against the process and are key targets for us as we will hit both places in the next few weeks.

The Irish ambassador welcomed all and the Norwegian ambassador backed her up then the floor was mine. The montage of photographs rolled on behind me as I built the crisis in countries affected by cluster bombs. The information was rolling out fast and hard and all were looking a little squeamish.

“I can see many of you find looking at these photographs hard, I found it hard to take them but it’s no where near as hard as it is to be in them.”


This one statement really hits them between the eyes and breaks through any defences that they may have been erecting in response to the presentation. There are two very bloody shots in the pictures but I turned them into black and white photos so as not to turn them off what I have to say. It’s easier to look at a black and white photo of something very bloody than a colour one.

The end of the talk focuses on the use of cluster bombs for defence and the example of Georgia. I draw that comparison to Sweden and Finland. Both ambassadors are having trouble making eye contact with me now.

“If you use cluster bombs for defence, it’s like having a suicide strategy. Put a gun to your countries head and pull the trigger while saying ‘you can’t hurt me as I’ll kill myself first’.”

I finish off and the conversation is lively and the Finish ambassador comes to me in an apologetic way. “I know what you are saying is true. You need to convince the army, they are the problem.” I have always known this and am itching to get to Helsinki and take the buggers on.

I was in Helsinki many years ago arguing this same issue in regards to landmines. They didn’t move then but with a second shot at them now we may be able to get some movement this time.

a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/banbus/3042424327/” title=”P1040733 by banbus, on Flickr”>P1040733
We pack up and haul everything out and set a time to meet all the Irish at a pub for a drink tonight.

Through Austria

A barrage of borders where ahead as we crossed from Switzerland to Austria to Liechtenstein, (so that’s where it is) into Germany and back to Austria then onto Slovakia. Our next destination was to be Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia on the weekend.

You must pay was back in our minds as all of these countries required a road tax to be purchased. Davor was getting quite a collection of little tax stickers on the windscreen with micro chips imbedded in them.

The autobahn system in Germany is famous as a road system with no speed limits. This was true last time I was here but they have now capped it at 130 km as they had some monster carnage accidents. Although there was now a limit it seemed that few paid any attention to it. We were belting along at a far rate and some cars went past us like we were standing still. Where the system falls down is one car doing 150 km or more and someone pulls out of the slow lane. Brakes are leapt on and the possibility of a horror smash is obvious.

Mette had found a small hotel in the hills of Austria and this was where we were headed. Our GPS really lost the plot this time as it made no sense what so ever. Mette re programmed the destination and again and again it gave insane directions. I noticed from the back that the SD card with the mapping data had ejected itself so once that was plugged in we were on our way.

Family hotels are nice and its in one of these where we ended up.

The results of the US election are rolling in and its Barak Obama that has won. He is the first black president and maybe the first for awhile with a good brain. Time will tell on that one. That doesn’t help the financial situation of the world though. In many ways he has been handed a poisoned challis as he inherits the monumental mess left by the Bush regime. I doubt the Bush regime will be remembered in history by anything more than starting a bunch of stupid and illegal wars and screwing the worlds economy to bits. The Obama option must be the best nationally but what amazes me is the US love of candidates that are so unworldly. George W Bush didn’t have a passport and was a very ignorant man. Sarah Palin was just quoted in the press as asking, “Is Africa a country?” That would be really dumb in any comedy skit but as a serious question from a woman who may have received the worlds second most powerful job, the prospect of such ignorance is terrifying. I can just see her in control of a nuclear strike! “Albania, Afghanistan, Austria, Australia? Oh my, which will it be? Best get them all as they do all start with A.”

The financial crisis was still taking hold of the world as we entered round two of our financial crisis. We were fast running out of money again. In fact, we had run out of money just after then last lot was paid in as we paid our bills and went back on funny money credit. The funny money had filled the credit cards again and we were again faced with the prospect of grinding to a rapid halt. I spoke to Thomas in Geneva and the problem was across the board. Money to wage this fight was promised to the whole campaign by the Norwegian Foreign Ministry but as of now the latest round of funding wasn’t through. Everyone was working on a promise of the cheques in the mail. That’s fine if you are hanging at home but our road overheads were fast turning us into something immobile. No money, no hotel, no fuel, no food, no Ban Bus. We had already figured we would be dosing on floors now on and off but this latest crisis could shut us down yet again. The clock is ticking on our future again.


We lived in false hope that Chris’s contact through Jeremy Clarkson to some auto suppliers might have paid off but the lines of communication stayed quiet. I imagine we succeeded in making it to the trash bin fairly quickly though.

Mette and me are feeling the financial pinch badly now. The credit cards are tipping the scale into bankruptcy and we see the end of the Ban Bus looming nearer due to the cash flow crisis. We are both feeling jaded as there is no reason why we should be bankrolling this project. The only reason we do is a deep commitment that we need to be 150% in the job we are doing and getting this treaty up and running. It is a finite game as the signing is now only 22 days away. The beginning of this trip in Serbia seems so far away now. Neither of us sleep well any more, maybe four hours then wake up thinking about the problems that shouldn’t exist. I am now getting thoroughly pissed off with the Norwegian Foreign Ministries slow financial system. What would happen if we had said no cash flow, no work. I am sure the Foreign Affairs Minister does not dump his personal credit on the counter to bank roll the Norwegian government.

I talked with Thomas last night and he is as frustrated as we are with the cash flow issue. He can’t pay the wages of his staff either. Just when the work really matters, the funds dry up. It’s amazing that we can work 20 hours a day on the Ban Bus and that’s fine but the stress created by this is what brings us down.

There have been a few bright spots though as our old friends Jody and Steve have kicked in some money as well as Norwegian Peoples Aid and Handicap International. Every bit helps as it all tips straight into the running costs. Norwegian Peoples Aid have even found some extra money to loan us till the cash flow problem is solved. One step at a time, limp on.

The night in Austria is good but still with some on the hour late night bells. What’s the issue in this part of the world and bells? I am itching to get on the road north and away from the bing bong world. We belt onto Bratislava and the manic traffic pressure that we have had till now seems to ease a bit. The drive into the city is actually easy and the hotel not hard to find. Our first action will be in the morning as we will park the Bus in a walking mall and press for petition signing and get information out. The press has also been invited.


On the road again. Willy Nelson could sing a song about that. We packed up and began the haul over the mountains towards Geneva. Geneva is home to the United Nations and a forum called the CCW was about to begin. The CCW stands for Convention on Conventional Weapons. This is the forum that should deal with all weapons that are not chemical, nuclear or biological. The first time I was here was in 1996 and we put all of our hopes in it dealing with the Landmines issue. It failed due to its bogged down inability to decide on anything, the process of consensus and the mire it inhabits.

Since the Cluster Munitions Treaty was negotiated in Dublin in May there has been a renewed vigour in trying to create a protocol within the CCW that will cover cluster bombs, as well. The problem being the bar in the CCW is so low that if they actually achieved something it could weaken the excellent treaty negotiated in Dublin. Snakes and Ladders played by diplomats in their ivory tower. The chair is a Danish diplomat called Bent Wigotski. Denmark has agreed to sign the cluster bomb treaty in Oslo but Wigotski seems hell bent on producing something out of Geneva that would undermine the Oslo treaty. The argument for CCW is that it has the big players like Russia, America and China as members. The down side is that if they actually do achieve anything it will be so weak that it will be worth nothing. This of course translates to more cluster use in the future.

We drove across the top of Italy, around Milan, and finally up into the hills. It was breathtaking scenery but we ended up missing most of it because, once again, we were largely travelling at night. We rolled into Geneva and my diplomatic déjà vu was back. A booking was waiting for us at the Etap Hotel near the airport. It’s clean and busy catering for those on a tight budget with something to do at the UN. It’s a regular pot pouri from all four corners of the world.

Monday morning we met under the Broken Chair to hold a public action lobbying the diplomats as they came to the UN. The Broken Chair is a massive sculpture set accusingly in front of the main entrance of the UN. It’s a huge wooden chair with one leg blasted off, as a symbol of those injured by landmines. It was commissioned during the negotiations for the Landmine Treaty in 1997 and has stood a silent vigil staring into the UN ever since.

Handicap International is an NGO that has dealt with disability in the developing world for about 30 years. They were a key player in the creation of the Landmine Treaty and were never shy about doing public actions. They began the tradition of the shoe pyramid where they would dump tonnes of shoes in very public places and use it as a rallying point for everything from the general public to politicians and the media. Creativity was always a strong point for them and it’s no surprise they were the driving force behind the creation of the Broken Chair.


We drove down the hill towards Lake Leman then up into the island where the chair stands. I have to admit that I love the chair. I have no idea why but I do get a strong feeling from it, like it belongs to me or I belong to it. It’s like meeting an old friend again, it stands for something I fought so hard for and has been a core part of my life for so long.

The chair has been wrapped in white paper as part of the new protest in support of a ban on cluster bombs, but the significance of this is lost on me. The bus is parked under the shattered leg and in a few minutes we have all of our photographs out and are talking to anyone who passes by. A fake boarding pass to Oslo had been printed and on the back of this is a plea for diplomats to come to Oslo and sign the treaty.

The Swiss can be quite stiff at times so ice breaker tactics need to be applied to get them engaged.

“Good morning! Here is a free ticket to Oslo. Bring your friends, family, diplomats and government. No sir, don’t be shy, it’s only a piece of paper. It won’t bite you.”

Incessant babble often gets through and if that doesn’t work you either blow them off and move to the next or get really cheeky.

“It’s only paper, be brave, reach out and take the tiny piece of paper. Beware of paper cuts though and dispose of thoughtfully after reading.”
“Take it, come on, I dare you, even double dare you.”
“Did you know I’ve always loved you, grrrrufff.”

(Run like hell if that one stops them.)

The pedestrian peak hour is from about 8.30 am till 10 am and we get many in this time. Banners are up with different messages. “Cluster bombs, ban them in Oslo, don’t legalise them in Geneva.” And simply “Sign in Oslo”. The photos are always a crowd stopper and as soon as people stop to look at them, I’d slide on in for a chat about the problem.


The media turned up in mass too and we reinforced that all countries need to be in Oslo and not wasting their time contemplating half bans in Geneva. The crowds died away and we went to the UN to get our accreditation and passes then meet for a press conference inside. The UN is a bastion from reality. There are the same tired faces here conference after conference and sadly the role of many is to water things down and look out for their “National Interest”. Oh how I hate that phrase. Gormless pasty faced rakes in droopy suits who think they are the real deal, waiting for their opponents to blink in a death match of poker. Wigotski sits as a scrawny little character and attempts to railroad through his views. Statement after statement is read and the job of the chair is judge the view of the room and come up with a conclusion. There seems to be potential cracks here as the different views are expressed but it’s very early days and the CCW two weeks to run. Anything can happen in that time.

I sat at the back of the room listening to a few speeches. One tried hack after the next delivers their view that they don’t like this or don’t like that and collectively erode any progress away to nothing. I hate it and wait for the lunch time adjournment and the start of our media conference.

The clock strikes one and I am off with Thomas, Lynn and Steve into the bowels of the UN. This is not a building to get lost in, as I have learnt from the past, it’s the second largest building in Europe and a rabbit warren at that. We trudge off for the 1km walk, our footsteps echoing in the grand vaulted halls. Originally this building was the home of the League of Nations, the forerunner of the United Nations. When it was constructed it was done on a grand scale. Columns, vaults and magnificent masonry adorned with murals and the trappings of grandeur. The end we start from though is the shabby carbuncle section, a modern extension and nothing more than steel, glass and concrete.

The new end was added to give bigger meeting rooms and the really large assemblies of representatives from the whole world can be seated here. There is not one massive assembly room but a whole series of them each with smaller side rooms for holding side meetings and briefings. Our press conference is at the other end in amongst the labyrinth of offices. This area gets so confusing I have been stuck inside in the past and couldn’t even find a way out. Over the twelve years I have been coming to the UN I have become more familiar but that can always turn to confusion.

The first time I was here was 1996 at the CCW. There were the usual round of cocktail parties hosted by the different nations to grease up other nations and NGO’s. I hate these events with a passion but part of the job is to attend and use the opportunity to lobby. I don’t dispute their usefulness to do some lobbying but I just hate the elitism that comes from them. Many use them as just an excuse to booze up on free wine and finger food. During the 1996 meeting the USA threw a cocktail party and it was the worst I have been to. They ushered us into a large box of a room in the base of their building then ran out of booze and food before I got through the door.

The next day the British decided to host one but used the opportunity to embarrass the Americans. There is a formal dining restaurant on the roof of the UN with an incredible view of the lake and Alps beyond. This was to be their location. It was April 25, ANZAC Day, a sacred date for Australians and New Zealanders. It’s the day that they landed for an attempted invasion of Turkey in World War One. Thousands died and the attempt was abandoned many months later after the loss of thousands of men’s lives. It was a tough lesson about the world for two very young nations and has been commemorated on this day ever since.

To show up the Americans the Brits turned on a lavish spread of wine and food, true diplomatic style. We pressed the flesh and talked through the issues with various diplomats and slowly the numbers began to thin out. I ended up drinking with two Australian Colonels and some British Military and we were giving them hell about using Australians and New Zealanders as cannon fodder. One drink led to the next and we were getting fairly well lubricated. I overheard a brief conversation between the British representative from the Foreign Office and his Army counterpart.

“I’m off,” said the Foreign Office guy. “You shut it down when you see fit but this kind of drinking is a job for the army anyway,” and with that he was out the door.

Another round of drinks came by and the conversations were heated not just on the meaning of ANZAC Day but on the work at CCW and its probable failure. The hands lapped the clock a few times and the serving staff were half asleep in the corner. Major what’s his name waved them into action and more booze arrived. We drank on. The serving staff had finally had enough but instead of kicking us out put a crate of gin on the bar and went home.
by Dragan Tepavac
Without breaking rhythm we moved to gin tonics and toasted India and the Raj till we ran out of tonic. The straight gin proved too much for most and the idea of leaving crept through the room. A good idea as it was past 1 am. We walked out of the restaurant into a darkened foyer and caught the lift to the exit level. Giggles erupted as the doors opened and a few went down face first. Our little gang of about 12 wandered to the exit and it was locked. The next door was locked too. We began to try every way out but couldn’t find an unlocked door. We couldn’t find any security either.

Our gaggle headed off on the one km walk from the new building to the old and as we came across exits we tried each and every one. All locked, no guards. Finally we got to the far end and still couldn’t get out. Those with careers at stake began to panic a bit at the thought of being busted inside the UN hammered with NGO’s. I just found the whole episode immensely funny and was being very noisy.

“Let’s just start yelling,” I suggest, “someone must come eventually.”

“No way,” says the Major, “I’ll be Court Martialed!”

“Not my problem sunshine,” says me.

We head back the way we came checking doors and many an office is open. We could have gone on such a rampage if we had wanted to. The UN is on a steep hill so there is a second level two floors down that also exits into the grounds. Heading down there we continue checking the doors. Finally at the far end we find a service door unlocked and exit into the cold night. The walking has sobered many up by now and the army boy is terrified his career is about to end.

“Ok, let’s get out of here, there is a light on at the lower gate, someone must be there and they will let us out,” says me.

Army boy is in a lather now that they will take names and he’ll still be busted.

“Well that’s what happens when you join the army and try to keep your landmines,” I rather helpfully point out, “should have become an NGO and done some real work.”

We hatch a plan to head to another section and jump the fence. Why did I feel that this plan would attract dogs and gun fire? Now it was like being in a World War Two movie and we were about to break out of Colditz Castle or something equally as dramatic. Up through the shadows to the fence and all are safely bunked over and we transform back to our original selves, a bunch of drunks staggering home after a big night out.

In the morning, with massive hangovers, we are back in the UN and knowing little smirks pass from one to the other.

“God you stink of booze,” I said to Major soldier boy.

“I know, I know. I have been trying to avoid the Ambassador all morning,” he says.

A few hours later I discover Major boy has a hidden talent. He’s a closet cartoonist. While the great and the good are babbling back and forth he sits and draws, supplying the odd military comment when required. He passes me a cartoon he has done this morning. It’s apparently of him and me, drunk, arm in arm with birds and stars circling overhead and the fumes of booze wafting up. I’m the scruffy NGO and he is the dishevelled diplomat in the pin stripe suit.

The caption from his mouth says, “You’re right, we don’t need landmines.”
Mine says, “No, you have a legitimate right for your own self defence.”

How times have changed. We won that fight and now trying for a second treaty we walk these halls again.

Once past the General Assembly, the biggest room in the UN, we descend some stairs to the ground floor and into the back of the press section. There is a small conference room there with a table at one end and 26 press representatives waiting. They covered every corner of the globe and are an essential forum to get the message out to.

Steve begins with an over view of the problem, the criticisms of CCW as a process and why it will not deliver a strong text that will solve the problem of future use of cluster bombs. Thomas follows on with more comment on the way forward and the Oslo process, then we pass the microphones to Lynn. She is an American mother whose son was a Marine in Iraq. He was killed when dealing with a cluster bomb there. Her testimony stumped the room and you could hear a pin drop. Some eyes looked away as the intense pain that only a mother knows is laid bare for the journalists. Her story is simple, eloquent and very sad. Finally I am given the floor and talk about Georgia and the Ban Bus. We open the floor for questions.

The UN press corps can be a brutal and fickle bunch. They could become your friend or foe for no apparent reason. Today they were our friends. Some good questions were asked and finally we adjourn. I went back to do more public actions outside and the rest went back to the meeting. We were to head off in the morning so today was our day to sort out any more Ban Bus problems. Thomas had brought us a case full of stuff from the Irish Ban Bus and as Geneva was basically the half way point, we needed to make sure all was set for the run north into the worsening weather and the drive to Oslo.
Dragan Tepavac
Mette and I met Thomas, Lynn and a few others for dinner that night and Thomas had a Portuguese shrimp restaurant lined up for us. It’s cheap and they keep the shrimps coming in a Piri Piri sauce till you want no more. Cheap and lots suits me and the thought of a good dose of chilli really appeals.

Geneva is a very beautiful city if you like this kind of place. It’s on the water of Lake Lemans and as it straddles the western tip is a mass of reflections from the city lights. The reflections are actually of massive neon signs that advertise every form of Swiss watch. Rolex, Philippe Patak and many others are represented in the watery mirror. Our shrimp extravaganza turns into a Fondue restaurant and we settle in to a hearty feast of wine and melted cheese. It’s simple, you get a small bon fire on your table with a pot of boiling melted cheese with Kirsch added on top. You dip bits of bread in with forks and eat that. It’s tasty but I can’t say that eating a few kilos of melted cheese is really my thing. My bum tends to suffer from it the next day, and the day after, and sometimes the day after that. We tuck in and digest the day’s proceedings.

A pub provides a night cap and we head back to Thomas’s hotel. We have to collect our big box of goodies and Thomas will be pleased to see the end of them.

We arrive at the Montana Hotel, an old favourite amongst NGO’s. The people are friendly and it’s more of a home away from home than a hotel. Many a strategy has been hatched in its rooms over the past 13 years. There are 6 of us, three guys and three girls. The new guy on the late night shift turns on us in the strangest way and says we can’t go up to Thomas’s room. He intimates that we have picked up and are off for a bit of group rumpy pumpy. The situation degenerates quite fast and we basically tell him to calm down and all entered the lift. On pushing the button for the 6th floor the lights go out and the lift is jammed. We stand like sardines in the dark and wait to see what happens. Nothing. I grab the door and force it open and we step out. The desk clerk commando is beside himself now and ranting and raving.

Thomas and me take to the stairs and the rest wait in the lobby for us to return. Up 6 floors and retrieve the case. The walk back down is interesting as the case is near 30 kg and hits every step loudly all the way down. Thump, thump, thump, thump. I can hear it echoing all the way to the lobby. Words have been exchanged while we were gone and the situation is no calmer, anything but. We get everyone out into the street and as I go through the door he gives me the Swiss equivalent of the finger, the thumped forearm with a clenched fist. I turn back to him and tell him in a very calm way, because that annoys people who are upset even more, there is absolutely no need for that. He ran into the restaurant, we left. I found the whole show hysterical. He obviously didn’t feel the same way as he had got himself into such a state. He deserved it though as he basically treated the three women, who are all colleagues of ours, as a trio of hookers.

Thomas didn’t care either and as we departed he re-entered and had a nice calming chat with the night clerk. Thomas is a good diplomat and all was sorted in a few minutes.

Our plan to leave early changed as Steve wanted me to come to a side briefing he was giving and talk a little about Georgia. This would not be till 2 pm, so we worked on planning more Ban Bus events for the coming days and I had a long talk with the Swiss members of Handicap International. Mette was at the Broken Chair again and working the morning crowds for a second day running.

As I entered the UN I met our favourite Croatian, Djiana. She told me that no adverse publicity came from the Zagreb event and all was good. She has done so much in getting Croatia to engage in the Landmine Treaty and the Cluster Bomb Treaty that she deserves a Nobel Prize! She has to have the thickest skin on earth as she has come under so much political fire at various times.

The briefing is very well attended and Steve delivers the findings of the Human Rights Mission to Georgia. They have always done excellent work and their reports are a mass of fact without emotional commentary. They had done it again and the diplomats sat in stunned silence. There was very little I could add and it seemed pointless to go over points he had covered so succinctly, so I added some comments about the surface clearance and how this will play out in the spring when farmers try to use their land again. The Georgian Ambassador was there and was quite distraught at what he had heard. Welcome to the truth, you used cluster bombs defensively on your own land and have trashed it. Idiotic strategy.

The Georgian Ambassador was having great trouble coming to terms with the facts about his own country. He wasn’t aggressive or even defensive, just simply shocked. He seemed a sad character and said in a pleading voice, “but we don’t even have these weapons, we bought M-85’s from the Israelis.” Tragically, he wasn’t trying to dispute the findings.

(The outer casing of an M-85 is the same as an M-95 or a Bantam. Its dark metal with fragmentation rings circling it. The part that distinguishes one from the other is the cap. The cap is what makes it a so called self destruct munition, not the body. A cursory look can easily fool the unsuspecting eye. There is a small groove in the slider and a little indent to the side of that. That is subtle enough and hard enough to spot in the field but when that whole section is packed under the deployment ribbon inside its delivery bomb it’s impossible to detect. The plot was beginning to thicken as it appears that Israel may have ripped the Georgians off by selling them the old non destruct stocks claiming they were self destruct munitions. The Georgian Ambassador was devastated at this possibility. There were definitely going to be some embarrassing questions asked between Tbilisi and Tel Aviv. Personally, I found the whole charade quite amusing. What is the world coming to when you can’t trust your local arms dealer?)

It was time to head off as there is only so much Geneva that anyone can take. We drove down the hill from the UN to the lake and turned east into a bumper to bumper traffic jam. This might take awhile. Crawling for many kilometres we finally found the cause of the chaos, the police had a licence check happening. This traffic jam must have spread the whole length of Geneva!

Not being pulled over we drove on towards Zurich. We thought we could find a little hotel in the mountains somewhere near the border. It would be so nice to get out in the countryside and away from the city. We headed for Zug as Davor had a cousin there and thought that would be as good as anywhere to stop. Our GPS guided us to nearby hotels but each was full. Farther and farther afield we searched and not a bed was available. The thought of a night under a bridge in the sleeping bags was looking like a possibility. It was dark, cold and late when finally we found one room we could put Daniel in and another for Mette and me. Davor headed off to his cousins.

We were exhausted and fell to the sleep of the dead till I am awakened by church bells. What the hell is the church doing ringing at 3 am? That was the beginning of the end as the church tolled once every 15 minutes then rang out the hour every hour. They were driving me crazy!! I lay awake all night listening, bong, bong, bong, bong. This made the Taliban look like moderates, at least when they call to prayer they only do it briefly 5 times a day, not every 15 minutes. When 6 am came they went into a ringing frenzy and rang over 200 times. I know, I counted the bloody things!! I couldn’t get out of this place fast enough. Now I know where the US got their tactics for Guantanamo Bay, they got them from the Swiss and their love of clocks and time! Next time you are heading east across Switzerland and see a sign to Zug or Cham put your foot to the floor and keep going as it’s a place you never want to visit, ever.
Dragan Tepavac

Viva Italia!

As we drove out of Zagreb there was a sombre mood, as we wondered if we were going to have trouble in the press over the Serb spelt sign. A changed letter and only on for ten minutes, we really hoped it would not take centre stage. Davor was very quiet till he confessed, “My country is gone”. When Yugoslavia tore itself apart not all relished the rise in nationalism. Davor went to Canada and stayed as far away from the madness as possible. He saw Yugoslavia under Tito as good for all. The subsequent collapse has helped no one in his eyes. The drama over having a little Serb spelling really made him sad.

We drove on and crossed into Slovenia and the border girl spelt out what we had been missing for so long, “You must pay!” This was a first rate rip off as she insisted on us paying a 36 euro toll to drive across the country. The country is only about 300 yards wide, so that hardly represents great value for money. “Oh but you can drive anywhere here for the next 6 months” she says. As we will be out of here in the next 2 hours this hardly makes us feel better.


Driving on and out the other side we are in Italy and I can taste the pasta already. The Balkans have been great but they eat a lot of meat and I have reached my fill of grilled lamb. I am craving some beautiful Italian food! The GPS even seems slightly calmer as we close in on Paduva, which is in the north east near Venice. I know nothing of this place so as we get closer and closer we are all becoming more impressed. The GPS actually gets us to the centre by Saint Antonio’s cathedral. The little hotel we’re staying in is across the road from the church and Diego is there to meet us. He is the local campaigner and there are a bunch of them at a restaurant around the corner.

Unfortunately we can’t all stay at the same hotel and Daniel and Davor are on the edge of town, so we park the Ban Bus in our hotel and they grab a taxi out to theirs. I hate splitting up but sometimes it’s necessary due to the cost of hotels. We will always rotate who gets the better hotel if this happens but it’s still nicer to all be together. When I think of it, Davor has had mansion rooms where ever we have gone so my sympathy metre drops a few notches. Daniel has had the run of dog boxes so if anyone should get something better it is him. They decide to just head to the hotel and sleep and leave Mette and me to meet the locals.


There is a core group of 10 local campaigners and they have been waiting here quite awhile for us to come. The menu is passed and my idea of Italian heaven is laid out in the pages. I order something that sounds magnificent and the waitress says, “Sorry, too late for pasta, we can only do pizza now”. I was like a kid who’d lost his puppy. The disappointment didn’t last too long, because shortly after we were tucking into pizza and most importantly, it was nice and spicy!

The local campaign has a stack of things organised for us for tomorrow so after the meal it’s off to bed till we met again at 8 am.

Davor and Daniel meet Mette and me in the car park and the Ban Bus transformation begins yet again. This time, it’s into English and Italian. The language sensitivities of the last few days start to drop away as the van become the Ban Bus again. Diego had prepared a pack of directions and timings so we plug them into our GPS and are on the road again.

Italian traffic is well, Italian traffic and of course we get lost. “Recalculating” says the GPS followed by “Recalculating”. Around and around we go with no idea if we are right or wrong. We call Diego and they are running late too. Finally they spot us heading up a road and we get the Bus in the front of a church. A crowd of excited young school kids are on the steps screaming “Welcome Ban Bus!!”


The priest has given us free run of the church and Mette and Daniel get the pictures out and banners up in the street as I start to talk to the kids. I don’t do a standard presentation as everyone I do is different from the last. I have been asked in the past if I can supply a copy of my speech and I say “sure, how fast can you write?” I start talking about the basics and introduce the issues a little at a time so as not to lose the younger children. They all get it and finally we are open for questions. The quality and thought behind the questions is incredible, especially for a group of kids aged from 10 to 17 years old. This was a talk that could have gone on for hours. Diego closed the session, then we hit the streets. I was with some kids and we went in search of signatures at the bus terminal for the Peoples Treaty. In the mean time, Mette and Davor loaded the Ban Bus with kids and they started driving laps of Paduva yelling “Ban Cluster Bombs! Sign the Treaty”, in Italian of course. When I got back to the church there was a bunch of buzzing kids with a few more loads to go. Mette is the biggest kid and give her and van full of noise to play with and she is in her element. These kids were having a ball and didn’t want to go back to school. I admire teachers like the ones who brought the kids to us, as they are exposing them to a bigger world. They are not necessarily being exposed to a better world but a bigger one.

The rain had been pelting down and everything was soaked. All the photographs outside were wet but that didn’t matter as we purposely printed them on waterproof boards. Would have been silly to come to Europe at the start of winter and not have them waterproofed.

The day was just beginning as we headed to a restaurant for lunch. I got pasta! but it wasn’t that good. The afternoon had us in the old part of town and we were going to work the streets for signatures again and set up the exhibition. The exhibition is all about door stopping. There is a simple tactic to get lots of people interested in signing a petition to ban cluster bombs or anything else..We park the Ban Bus and off each end we set out the lines of pictures. It corals each end with visual material that will make them pause. They walk towards you, pause slightly, look at the first pictures, see you with a petition then speed up. You just leave them alone. At the second line of photos another person approaches them and asks them to sign. This simple technique works really well. People are defensive and avoid being stopped in the street. You let them get past you, they have a look at the photographs slow then you get them on the way out. It works almost every time.

The rain came and went and we spoke to many people. Because we were opposite the entrance to the university there were many graduating students getting hammered and celebrating. They had trumpets and accordions and sang the same thing over and over again. “Doctore, doctore, something something, Doctore.” It went on and on. One guy came by dressed as a goldfish with a picture of a naked woman on a fishing line. I missed the cow that apparently had also just passed us. Still they sang “Doctore, doctore”. I had to know and the song is “Doctor, I’m a doctor, stick it up your arse, I’m a doctor!”

As the sun set we mopped up the photos, packed up the van and headed for a popular local for a drink. Paduva is a really beautiful city. I would love to have more time to wander the back lanes and take it all in but we were to hit the road in the morning and head north to Geneva.

The day felt done, but they had one more gig to squeeze in before we left Italy and it’s was to speak at a nightclub’s Halloween Party. Yep, the quiet night before a day driving to Switzerland was out, because the party wasn’t starting until close to midnight. They had organised to have a plasma TV rolling cluster related films all night and we would take the floor at some time and add a few words. There was only a narrow window of opportunity to do this..Too early and the crowd would be tiny, too late and they’d be too pissed to know or care.

There were a few hours spare till the club gig started, so we headed to the hotel for a quick break and dinner. Davor was exhausted and I think the problem of yesterday was really getting to him. Mette decided to drive him home in the Ban Bus and Daniel and me went for dinner. My back was a mess due to old injuries and I was certainly having trouble walking about. I needed some drugs and needed them fast. A fist full of pain killers and anti inflammatories was swallowed and we went back to the restaurant we were at last night. This time I was in time for pasta and a magnificent seafood Tagliatelli was delivered.


Two hours later we headed back to the hotel to find Mette and a phone call revealed that she was lost. In fact she was very lost! Davor and her had been going around and around with no hotel in sight and the GPS was letting them down again. How unusual! I suggested they head back to our hotel and Davor could be put in a taxi to his hotel. In the meantime Daniel and me grabbed a cab and headed out to where this nightclub was.

It was deep in an industrial estate and called Banale. The place wasn’t open yet and the bar girl had no idea what we wanted to do. There was a definite language barrier here as she indicated that people came here to get hammered, dance and laid. Sounds like a typical nightclub to me! A phone call to Diego and all was unravelled. We were in the right place. The films were copied onto the clubs computer and we worked out how it would run. Halloween is apparently quite popular here and some patrons were even arriving in costume. The place was filling fast when Diego came to us and said that some kids were at the door and had come to hear the talk. They didn’t have much money so couldn’t get in. The rain was starting as I got my computer and went out to the car park. These kids were connected through Diego and a youth group he worked with. As far as we were concerned if they had come all this way because they want to know about clusters they deserved a good show. In a darkened corner of the car park I started telling them the field realities and showed them film of cluster strikes. We talked for over half an hour and they all found it outrageous and wanted more involvement. I think they will be our latest band of activists with some energetic local leadership.


The crowd was almost at capacity and not so far off being tanked so it was time to make a show of it. I have spoken in some weird and wild places in the past but I don’t remember a darkened club on Halloween. Any soap box will do so I hit the stage with Tibisay, Diego and an MC. We pushed out our message and kept it short, sharp and punchy. The place was starting to pump and I was exhausted, so it was time to head for home. The locals had been a bag of surprises and Diego returned again dressed as a BLU-97 cluster bomb! Across his chest he’d written, “Ban Me!”
There is a simple reason why I like to come to Italy, Italians are just great!!